Amazon bans foreign sales of seeds in US amid mystery of unsolicited packages from China

US Department of Agriculture warned Americans not to plant the seeds

China asks US to send back mysterious seed parcels so that it can investigate

Tech giant Amazon said it has banned foreign sales of seeds in the US after thousands of Americans received unsolicited packages of seeds in their mailboxes, mostly postmarked from China.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in July identified more than a dozen plant species ranging from morning glories to mustard in the bags of unsolicited seeds. It warned Americans not to plant the seeds.

According to plant experts, seeds from other parts of the world could be non-native varieties that harm commodity crops.

Packages have been mailed to addresses in all 50 states as well as to locations across Canada.

Many of the packages had shipping information printed in Chinese characters on the bags, some of which were misprinted and described objects like bracelets or rings.

Most of the packets appear — according to the address labels — to have come from the Chinese cities of Suzhou.

In a statement on Saturday, Amazon wrote: “Moving forward, we are only permitting the sale of seeds by sellers who are based in the US."

The policy change on seeds was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The company said that sellers who do not follow its guidelines will be subject to action, including potential removal of their accounts.

According to Amazon’s policy web page, the ban extends to plants and plant products.

The USDA in July said the packages were most likely part of a “brushing” scam, in which people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false positive customer reviews to boost sales.

In an update on 11 August, Osama El-Lissy, a deputy administrator for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), said the experts analysing some of the seeds from China found very few problems. El-Lissy added that the two countries were working jointly on the investigation.

Reuters contributed to this report

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