Ag agency wants your mailed Chinese seeds

Prevention, not lab analysis is State of Vermont strategy: “we don’t have that capacity now”

By Guy Page

August 5, 2020 – The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (AF&M) has plans to collect every reported packet of unsolicited Chinese seeds mailed to Vermonters, a spokesperson said yesterday. But it won’t be sending them to the lab. 

“We have been dealing with this since the middle of last week,” Scott Waterman, agency policy & communications director, told Vermont Daily by phone yesterday. Waterman reached out to Vermont Daily after Gov. Phil Scott said during his press conference he didn’t have any answers about the mysterious mailings but has asked AF&M to investigate. 

An Agency press release issued last week warns Vermonters to not plant these seeds of unknown plant species. The agency called this practice of mailing unsolicited seeds to other nations “agricultural smuggling.” Mailings of the unsolicited Chinese seeds have been reported across the country for several months. 

Now the Agency is pushing hard to collect the seeds to prevent possible negative impacts of what it calls “agricultural smuggling,” by collecting them before they are planted. “Right now we have 159 inquiries,” Waterman said. “28 of those, we have picked up the seeds. We have field staff that have been assigned to pick up 80 more. That’s going to start in earnest tomorrow.” 

What AF&D doesn’t know is what kind of seeds they are, or why China has sent them to Vermont (and apparently to many other states, during recent months.) According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and media reports, the seeds are common garden vegetables, flowers and herbs. But AF&M won’t be doing lab analysis.

“We don’t have that capacity now,” Waterman said.

But USDA apparently does, according to an August 4 statement: “At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales. USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”

The brushing scam explanation seems as reasonable as any other to Waterman, but like everyone else, he’s in the dark. 

“Who the h–l knows these days,” Waterman said. It’s 2020, right?”