By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
Hundreds of Canadians have received packages of seeds they didn’t order this summer. It’s not a mistake of a misdelivered parcel however – someone somewhere is purposefully delivering the seeds.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) first made a statement on the seeds on July 28, 2020, which said that they were “investigating reports of individuals receiving unsolicited packages of seeds.” At that time, CFIA requested that anyone who received one of these packages to keep everything and report it to them.
“Do not plant seeds from unknown origins. Unauthorized seeds could be the seeds of invasive plants, or carry plant pests, which can be harmful when introduced into Canada. These species can invade agricultural and natural areas, causing serious damage to our plant resources,” said the initial report.
CFIA provided an update on August 6, by which time they had received over 750 reports of mystery seed packages. CFIA said their investigation of the reports had so far shown the following:
- The packages are postmarked as being from several different countries and many are declared as toys or jewelry. As a result, it is difficult to identify the packages as containing seeds when they arrive in the country.
- The seeds are from a range of plant species, including tomato, strawberry, rose, and citrus, and some weed seeds that are common in Canada (for example, shepherd’s purse and flixweed).
- The seeds appear to be low risk, however Canadians are being cautioned to not plant these seeds.
“It remains unclear why some Canadians are receiving the seeds, or their originators, although some of the recipients reported having ordered seeds online in the past,” read the update. “The CFIA is considering all options, including the possibility that an e-commerce business is trying to boost online sales by sending unrequested products to customers and posting fake positive reviews, also known as ‘brushing’.”
Brushing scams send unsolicited items that are light and inexpensive, like seeds or ping pong balls, to random people. Since a product was sent, these people can be ‘verified’ as customers and reviews can be posted in their name online. While the unsuspecting customers aren’t usually charged for the items, the fraudsters have accessed their name and address, which means they may have been able to access other sensitive information, such as credit card numbers. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre considers brushing to be a type of identity fraud. People receiving any products they didn’t purchase are asked to report it to authorities and the Better Business Bureau. In the case of seeds, it should be reported to the regional CFIA branch. The South West Ontario CFIA can be contacted by phone at 519-691-1300.
The CFIA continues to work with the Canada Border Services Agency and Canada Post, as well as with its international partners, to identify the seed origins and stop the flow of unsolicited seeds into Canada. However, they noted, “While the CFIA continues to collect and share information with other countries experiencing the same situation, such as the United States, we may not be able to determine the source.”
The CFIA asks Canadians who receive seeds they did not order to:
- Put the seeds, packaging, and mailing label in a sealed bag inside a second sealed bag.
- Report them to regional CFIA office.
- Await further direction.
- Refrain from planting, flushing, or composting the seeds to avoid them sprouting and spreading.
- If you no longer have the seeds but still have the packaging, set it aside and report it to the CFIA.
- If you have already planted the seeds or put them in the compost, remove them and any plants that may have grown from them, and put them in a sealed bag inside a second sealed bag, along with the package, if available, and contact the CFIA.
- If you have already thrown the seeds in the garbage but still have packaging or other information that will help to determine where the seeds came from, contact the CFIA.
A request for the latest statistics and known information from CFIA went unanswered as of press time.