USDA clarifies rules for buying and selling seeds

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Many of the 2020 seed shipments were illegal because they entered the U.S. without a permit or a phytosanitary certificate. (Submitted photo)

WASHINGTON — Following a months-long investigation into thousands of reports from citizens who received unsolicited seed packages in the mail last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is providing additional guidance to help online buyers and sellers comply with U.S. laws when they import seeds and live plants for planting from other countries.

The information will also help protect critical U.S. agriculture infrastructure and natural resources from potential invasive pest and disease threats. The guidance explains buyer and seller responsibilities; outlines required documents, such as import permits and phytosanitary certificates; provides information on plant and seed species that have additional import requirements; and makes clear which types of plants and seeds are not allowed to be imported into the United States.

The site was published in response to thousands of reports of unsolicited seed deliveries that began in July 2020. While the inspection service confirmed that some of the seeds were sent to the United States unsolicited, others were seeds the recipients ordered — unaware they were coming from a foreign country.

Regardless, most of the seed shipments were illegal because they entered the U.S. without a permit or a phytosanitary certificate.

There has been no evidence that someone was intentionally trying to harm U.S. agriculture with these shipments. In fact, there is no correlation between where the seeds were sent and U.S. critical agriculture infrastructure.

It is believed that the unsolicited packages are part of an internet “brushing scam.” Sellers carrying out brushing scams will often ship inexpensive items to increase transactions. The more transactions a seller completes, the higher their rating and the more likely that their items will appear at the top of search results on an e-commerce site.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has been working with e-commerce companies to remove the online sellers that are participating in the illegal import of propagative materials, including seeds. The agency has also been working with e-commerce companies to ensure they, and the sellers who use their platforms, are complying with USDA import regulations.

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