The “China seeds” have arrived in Norfolk.
On Wednesday morning, Capt. Michael Bauer with the Norfolk Police Division said residents of Norfolk have joined the ranks of countless citizens of cities in more than 30 states that have started receiving packets of seeds in the mail.
Bauer said it is believed that these unsolicited packages are originating from China. The packages are small and typically have Chinese writing on the outside. The package contains a small bag of seeds inside.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture also has received several reports of people receiving unsolicited packages of seeds in recent days.
“Please do not plant the seeds,’’ said Julie Van Meter, state entomologist with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
While the seeds are not considered dangerous to humans, they may be dangerous to the environment, Bauer said. Officials fear that, if planted, they could turn into some form of noxious, invasive species of plants.
Norfolk police are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on collecting any of these seeds.
If any Norfolk citizens receive a package of seeds in the mail, they are asked to call the Norfolk Police Division at 402-644-8700.
Personnel will collect the package and turn it over to the USDA.
Elsewhere in the state, John Fech got his first call about a seed package that appeared to be from China on Tuesday. A woman had received four in the mail, all with different labels, and wasn’t sure what to do.
“There is quite a bit of concern over these things,’’ said Fech, a horticulturist with the Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy counties. “You don’t really know what the motivation is behind them.’’
Keep the sealed seed packets and mailing packaging (including the mailing label) together in a sealed bag and contact the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office for further instruction. That number in Nebraska is 402-434-2346. The office is developing a protocol on how to handle the packets.
APHIS is working closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, other federal agencies and state departments of agriculture to investigate the situation.
In a release, APHIS said it didn’t have any evidence indicating this was something other than a “brushing scam” where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.
Van Meter agreed, saying there doesn’t appear to be anything nefarious about the packages. However, there is concern that the seed packets could contain noxious weeds or carry pathogens, insects or diseases that aren’t known to Nebraska or the United States.
“If that is the case, we definitely don’t want those to impact our state,’’ Van Meter said.
The USDA is collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents to determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.
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Editor’s note: The World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.