People in Indiana and around the country are receiving seeds in the mail from China that they didn’t order. State and federal officials are urging residents not to plant the seeds or throw them away where they could grow in landfills.
Don Robison is the seed administrator for the Office of Indiana State Chemist. He said from photos it's received, some of the seeds look to be sunflower, cucumber, wheat, or a mixture of things.
“Are there invasive species coming along with that — that we don't have in the United States and will be hard to control? And are there diseases on those seeds that would hurt the agricultural community?” Robison said.
He said they could also be noxious weeds — another common issue for Indiana farmers.
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) said the seeds could be a “brushing scam” — where a company makes a fake review of their product online by sending it to your address.
Banks serves on a congressional China task force. Recently, he’s seen an uptick in scams through Amazon — where several Indiana businesses sell their goods.
“More of them are coming to me and telling me about fake Amazon reviews that are intended to tilt businesses away from purchasing products from American vendors and toward purchasing products from Chinese vendors," Banks said.
Banks said he’s not sure if the seeds are related and has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate. He said some Hoosiers have received other things in the mail from China too — like face masks.
Banks said China has attempted to steal agricultural trade secrets in Indiana in the past. In 2011, a Chinese national was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for leaking trade secrets to people in China and Germany. Kexue Huang admitted to giving information on proprietary organic insecticides while working as a research scientist at Dow AgroSciences based in Indianapolis.
If you receive a packet of seeds from China, the OISC said to send it to: State Plant Health Director, Nick Johnson, 3059 N. Morton St., Franklin, IN 46131.
If you can’t mail the seeds or have already planted them, contact the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Entomology & Plant Pathology at 866-663-9684 or DEPP@dnr.IN.gov.
Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.