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Amazon bans foreign plant sales following delivery of mystery seed packages

All summer, people have been receiving unsolicited packages of seeds, mostly from China. Amazon's move appears to be in response.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read

Packages of seeds like this have been sent mysteriously to US residents this summer, according to the US Department of Agriculture. These happen to be tomato seeds. 

US Department of Agriculture

Amazon is reportedly barring the sale of foreign plants to the US, following reports that people across the country this summer have been receiving suspicious, unsolicited packages of seeds, many of which are postmarked from China.

Amazon's new policy went into effect on Thursday, according to an email viewed by The Wall Street Journal, which first wrote about the ban Saturday. Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for confirmation, but the Journal also noted that the company has updated its seller rules to reflect the change. The email Amazon reportedly sent to foreign seed sellers said the change is part of the company's "ongoing efforts to protect our customers and enhance the customer experience," the Journal said.

The seed deliveries have been a summer mystery. On the case are the US Department of Agriculture's Plant Health Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection and other federal and state agencies. In late July, more than 27 states had reported mysterious seed deliveries, according to The New York Times.

The USDA is urging anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to immediately contact their state plant regulatory official or APHIS state plant health director.

"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 US agriculture or the environment," a press statement reads, warning: "Do not plant seeds from unknown origins."

"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," the statement adds. 

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