The seeds that have made national news after being sent seemingly at random to U.S. residents could be headed for a new fate, if Hoosiers comply: incineration in Indianapolis.
People all over the United States and Canada have received unmarked seed packages from China, and seed experts are imploring everyone not to open them or throw them away.
Don Robison is the seed administrator for the Office of Indiana State Chemist, which is located at Purdue. Robison was first made aware of the seeds last week, and said it seems as if a mailing list was hacked.
According to a press release from Purdue News, the seeds could be a part of a “brushing” campaign, in which online retailers send unsolicited packages and count them as sales to improve the seller’s ratings in a marketplace.
“Anyone in Indiana who receives a package is told not to open the seed packet and to mail it and any packaging materials to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Indiana office,” the press release said.
While the state chemist’s office does not believe there is anything nefarious happening with the seeds, Robison said seeds will still be tested to ensure they don’t harm Indiana crops.
The OISC has offered its services to aid in identifying the seeds, Robison said, though all the seeds may eventually be sent to a federal seed lab in North Carolina for official testing.
Robison said that so far, the office has received around 350 to 400 of these seed packages.
Robison is the lead administrator of the seed section of the OISC. The department often works with legislators, helping to write seed laws and regulations. His department is also responsible for the Indiana State Seed Lab, located in a biochemistry building at Purdue.
The people working in OISC’s seed department are highly credentialed, Robison said.
“To gain those credentials, we have to know over 300 kinds of random seeds by memory,” Robinson said.
Robison has three main concerns: the seeds could be rapidly expanding noxious weeds, invasive species that might outcompete the state’s natural crops, or carriers of diseases that plague Indiana agriculture.
Robison said judging from pictures he’s seen, the unknown seeds appear to seeds for vegetables and some grains. The seeds may seem harmless, but he worries about the grains most; Indiana has lots of wheat crop that could be impacted if the seeds were invasive.
While these are only possible outcomes, Robison said Hoosiers don’t want to take any chances.
“We really don’t want anybody to plant the seeds,” he said, “and we don’t want them to throw them away, because throwing them away is just planting them in a landfill.”
Even seed analysts won’t plant the seeds in their labs for the same reasons. They don’t want a rogue disease to ruin their other seed samples.
Robison said the seeds should be shipped to the USDA office in Franklin, Indiana, where they can be sent to a large incinerator in downtown Indianapolis.
“We’re really serious,” Robison said, “we don’t want them in the environment.”
If you receive these seeds in the mail, Robison says to place them in a baggie and address them to:
USDA APHIS PPQ
State Plant Health Director Nick Johnson
3059 N. Morton St.
Franklin, IN 46131
If someone has already planted the seeds, Robison said they should call the Department of Natural Resources Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology, and someone from the office will come out to dig up the seeds.
The number to notify the department if you’ve planted the seeds or cannot mail them is 866-663-9684. You can send an email to DEPP@dnr.IN.gov.