Mysterious seeds sent to Bardstown woman; USDA may have answers

Mysterious seeds sent to Bardstown woman; USDA may have answers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Mysterious packages of seeds from overseas are ending up on the doorsteps of Kentuckians. Not knowing who sent them or what their intentions were, state agriculture leaders put out a warning to secure the packages and report them immediately.

One of those arrived at Angela McGirk’s Bardstown home Monday.

"I assumed that it was the seeds," McGirk said. "I had seen the articles about seeds coming from China, but this was from Malaysia. It was labeled as a small toy."

Inside were seeds she did not recognize with a note that indicated they were a gift, and a message about giving the sender a five-star rating.

A warning from Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles about packages like this came out around the same it landed on McGirk’s doorstep.

“At this point in time, we don’t have enough information to know if this is a hoax, a prank, an internet scam or an act of agricultural bioterrorism,” Commissioner Ryan Quarles with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture said.

One of the initial concerns Quarles cited was that the seeds could be an invasive species or intentionally bring new diseases to Kentucky.

"I just wanted to do the smartest thing, which is to not open the seeds, to make sure we reported it to the right people," McGirk said. "But, of course, immediately, you think the worse."

The USDA released an update to the investigation Tuesday.

“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,” it stated.

McGirk said she did try to buy different seeds, green bean seeds, on Amazon in April, but they never arrived. She said her friends have had similar experiences.

"Multiple, multiple people," McGirk said. "Friends of mine had received seeds as well. All of them had recently ordered seeds from Amazon."

Officials and McGirk still urge all who get the seeds to keep them secure and report them immediately to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture or the USDA, which is still investigating the properties of the seeds.

“I’m afraid that people will plant these, that they will throw them in the garbage and they will end up in a landfill, which they can germinate there or that they’re flushing them down the toilet,” McGirk said.

Those at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture said several dozen people have called the agency to report they’ve received seeds.

In a Facebook post, Quarles laid out how Kentuckians can contact his office:

“It is incredibly important that if you receive a package of foreign or unfamiliar seeds, you report it to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture immediately.

Individuals who have received suspicious packages with seeds shouldn’t throw them away: put them in an airtight bag and ship them to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s division of Plant Protection Quarantine at USDA-APHIS PPQ, P.O. Box 475, Hebron, Kentucky 41048.

Individuals are also encouraged to contact the Kentucky Department of Agriculture at (502) 573-0282 or e-mail ag.web@ky.gov.”

A webpage dedicated to sharing steps Kentuckians should take if they receive unsolicited seeds from foreign countries. To view the page, click here.

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