AL (WALA ) — Laboratory testing suggests seeds sent from China to people throughout the United States are harmless, according to Alabama’s top agriculture official.
People in roughly half of the states have been reporting getting packages with the seeds over the past week or so. Alabama jumped on the issue fast, becoming one of the first states to conduct lab testing.
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Stan Pate told reporters at a news conference Monday that 385 residents reported getting the mailings. He said officials picked up and tested 252 samples. About half turned out to be flower seeds; 41 percent were vegetables like tomatoes; and 9 percent were herbs.
“We found no noxious compounds, no dangerous compounds that we believe would be,” he said. “But I want to be clear, though, that could be the case if somebody didn’t have our best intentions at heart. They might, would send out the first seed that weren’t treated with anything and then have a sense of security come about, and then later send some stuff out that could be harmful.”
Pate said residents in Baldwin County reported the most packages, followed by Jefferson County and Mobile County. Some 21 percent of the people reporting the Chinese seeds say they got multiple seed packets in the same package, while others got more than one package.
Perhaps most concerning to agriculture officials, Pate said about 15 percent of the people making reports already had planted the seeds by the time state workers arrived to retrieve them. Those workers dug up the seeds, along with the soil it was planted in.
Andy Tipton, the director of food safety and agriculture compliance for the Department of Agriculture and Industries, said at the news conference that people should not plant seeds they did not order. He said one of the big worries is that people will plant an invasive species and create problems similar to cogongrass originally from tropical and subtropical regions.
“It’ll bloom, and it’ll be like a dandelion bloom, so that there’s thousands and thousands of seeds that a few of these plants and produce,” he said. “And they spread very, very quickly.”
The department urges people not to open or plant unsolicited seeds, not to throw them away and to keep packaging, including mailing labels. People receiving seeds can report it online at agi.alabama.gov/reportseeds or by calling 334-240-7304.
This matter remains the subject of a U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation. Federal authorities have suggested this is a “brushing scam,” where companies send items and then post phony customer reviews to boost sales.
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