MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries said Monday it has received several hundred reports from residents who say they got seed packages in the mail from China.
The state has heard from 385 residents who say they got packages labeled as jewelry or something else other than seeds. Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate said 252 samples so far have been picked up by the state for inspection.
Pate said in securing the seeds, his department found that about 15 percent of respondents had already planted the packages, meaning both the seeds and surrounding soil had to be removed for study.
The investigation also found that about 21 percent of recipients got more than one package. So far, however, the commissioner says none of the samples have come back positive for any noxious or dangerous compounds, nor is there any evidence the seeds are contaminated with COVID-19, a question he’s fielded on multiple occasions since the packages started showing up in what is now 24 states.
Pate said about 50 percent of the seeds have been identified as various weeds while the rest are vegetables and herbs. He cautioned that if there is anything illegal or nefarious, that a first wave of seeds could be harmless while future packages could be more harmful if people drop their guard.
Baldwin, Jefferson, Mobile, Montgomery and Madison were the top five counties to get packages, but Pate said the distribution was wide ranging and deliveries were made in at least 56 of the state’s 67 counties.
Pate said his department quickly set about trying to find any “quick parallels” or links to those who got the packages and said he was surprised to find about half had ordered seeds online in the last year, adding he’d personally never done that.
While other states have deferred to the federal government and the USDA, Alabama has been at the forefront, the agriculture commissioner said.
“What we’ve done in Alabama is not typical,” Pate said. “We almost immediately decided, because we’ve got such a good food and drug lab and such a good seed lab, that we knew this was certainly inside our comfort zone, that we could get to the bottom of this.”
Pate added that the USDA is currently under a lot of restrictions because of the pandemic, and that had the state not taken the actions it did, “none of the seeds that came to Alabama would have been tested by now.”
If you get a packages of seeds in the mail you weren’t expecting, report them to www.agi.alabama.gov/reportseeds or call 334-240-7304. Officils urge you not to open, plant, or throw away the seeds and that you keep the packaging and label for further investigation.