Mysterious seeds

E-commerce giant Amazon banned foreign sales of seeds in the U.S. after thousands of U.S. residents received unsolicited seed packages this summer.

SALEM — Online retail giant Amazon has banned foreign sales of seeds in the U.S. after thousands of Americans nationwide received unsolicited packages of seeds in the mail, primarily from China.

The company informed foreign sellers last week that, effective immediately, it would no longer allow plant seed products to be imported. Non-U.S. residents within the U.S. are also not permitted to sell seeds in America.

Amazon made its move after U.S. officials expressed concern about how easy it is for seed sales to take place on e-commerce sites, potentially threatening U.S. agriculture with possible invasive species or pathogens.

The concern about foreign seeds was sparked this summer when residents across the U.S. received mysterious seed packages, labeled as though from China, Uzbekistan, the Solomon Islands, the United Arab Emirates and Kyrgyzstan.

According to USDA spokeswoman Cecilia Sequeira, the agency suspects the packages are part of a global “brushing scam,” which involves sellers sending people low-value items. Each fake “sale” then generates an online review that appears to boost the seller’s legitimacy.

Although USDA analysts have said the seed samples appeared benign — including varieties like cabbage, rosemary, mustard and basil — officials warned residents not to plant the seeds and to report them to the agency.

Amazon has not yet confirmed to the Capital Press whether its decision last week was prompted by this global seed mystery, but Amazon’s move appears to be in response.

On Thursday, Sept. 10, Amazon updated its public rulebook with the new policy, which now states that importing seeds to the U.S., or the sale of seeds within the U.S. by non-U.S. residents, is not permitted.

“Moving forward, we are only permitting the sale of seeds by sellers who are based in the U.S.,” Amazon spokeswoman Mary Kate McCarthy told the Capital Press on Tuesday.

According to a company statement released to the Capital Press, Amazon will subject any sellers who don’t follow these guidelines to action, including potential removal of their account.

McCarthy declined to answer the Capital Press’ question about whether the ban will extend to other countries.

McCarthy also declined to comment on the scale of foreign seed sales via its website prior to the ban.

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