Unasked-for seed packets considered ‘low-risk’

But don't plant, flush or compost them, CFIA warns

Federal inspectors say the unsolicited packages of seeds that have recently turned up in mailboxes across the country so far look to be “low-risk” — but still advise the public not to plant them.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have both reported hundreds of cases in recent weeks of people receiving what CFIA described as “unrequested packages of unknown seeds.”

CFIA said Thursday it has received such reports from over 750 people across all 10 provinces, although none yet in the territories.

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The agency said it “continues to collect information” about the packages, including information about their contents, senders, return addresses if any, postmarks and other labelling.

The seeds seen so far are from a “range” of plant species, including tomato, strawberry, rose and citrus — and also some weed seeds known to be common in Canada, such as shepherd’s purse and flixweed, CFIA said.

Given the “visual inspections” done to date, the seeds appear to be “low risk,” CFIA said Thursday.

That said, the agency still cautions Canadians to not plant seeds from “any unknown origin.”

Canadians who received seeds they didn’t order are still asked to place those seeds, the packaging and the mailing label in a sealed bag inside a second sealed bag, report the package to a regional CFIA office and “wait for further instructions.”

People who got the unasked-for seeds are also asked to “refrain from planting, flushing or composting” the seeds, so as to prevent sprouting and/or spreading.

If you’ve got such seeds and have already either planted or composted them, CFIA asks that you remove them and “any plants that may have grown from them,” put them in a sealed bag inside a second sealed bag — along with the package, if you still have it — and contact the CFIA. If the seeds have already gone out with the trash but you still have the package, keep it and report it to CFIA.

APHIS said it’s also still collecting the seed packages from people who received them, and plans to test their contents to determine “if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”

‘Brushing’

It’s still a mystery why anyone is getting these unsolicited seeds in the first place, CFIA said, though it noted some of the recipients reported having ordered seeds online in the past.

The packages showing up in Canada are postmarked as being from several different countries and the packages’ contents are declared as toys or jewelry, CFIA said. “As a result, it is difficult to identify the packages as containing seeds when they arrive in the country.”

But CFIA said it plans to keep working with the Canada Border Services Agency, Canada Post and the agency’s international partners to identify the seeds’ origins and stop their flow into Canada.

As for the why, CFIA said it’s still considering “all options” — including the possibility that some unknown e-commerce business is trying to boost its online sales by shipping out unrequested products.

The recipients aren’t believed to have been charged any money, but their addresses may be used to create fake positive reviews for the sender’s business — a type of scam also known as “brushing.”

The fake shipments are also a cheap method for third-party senders to pad their online profiles with what appear to be increased sales numbers on legitimate e-marketplaces such as Amazon, which further boost the senders’ profiles on those sites.

APHIS said it also doesn’t yet have any evidence that the mass mailouts are anything other than a brushing scam. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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