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Mystery seeds showing up in S.C. mailboxes

Agriculture
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Some S.C. residents are receiving unsolicited packages of seeds that may contain invasive species, and the S.C. Department of Agriculture and Clemson University’s Regulatory Services division are working together to investigate.

Similar reports have been made to agriculture officials across the country, according to a news release from the state Agriculture Department. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service is collecting reports and coordinating a national investigation.

“If these seeds should bear invasive species, they may be a threat to our environment and agriculture,” Steve Cole, director of Clemson's Regulatory Services unit, said in the release. “We don't want unknown species planted or thrown out where they may wind up sprouting in a landfill.”

S.C. Agricultural Department spokeswoman Eva Moore said not much more is known about the contents of the packets, which are shipped from China.

Officials advise recipients of unsolicited seed packages not to open the packets or handle the seeds. The seeds and their packaging should be placed in a zip-top bag, and recipients should contact the USDA agency handling the investigation, either online, by email or by phone at 800-877-3835.

“Whatever the reason for these mailings, it’s important to use caution when it comes to unidentified seeds,” said S.C. Department of Agriculture Assistant Commissioner Derek Underwood, who oversees the agency’s Consumer Protection Division. 

Residents in Washington state, Virginia and Utah reported receiving seeds last week. The Washington State Department of Agriculture told the Tacoma News Tribune in an article published Friday that the seeds usually arrive in packages marked as containing jewelry.

A person answering the phone at the Washington State agricultural department on Monday did not want to answer questions on the record.

“USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is aware that people across the country have received unsolicited packages of seed from China in recent days,” K. Cecilia Sequeira, APHIS public affairs specialist, said in an emailed response to inquiries from the Business Report. “APHIS is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection and state departments of agriculture to prevent the unlawful entry of prohibited seeds and protect U.S. agriculture from invasive pests and noxious weeds.”

Additional questions can be directed to the S.C. Department of Agriculture’s Seed Lab at 803-737-9717 or via email, to Clemson University’s Department of Plant Industry via email, or to a local Clemson Extension office.

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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