Mysterious seed packets, often labelled with a misleading description and possibly coming from China, were received in mails in India, Japan, Canada, the United States of America and United Kingdom over the past week, raising a "seed terrorism" alarm.
The International Seed Testing Agency (ISTA) issued a warning in this regard on Friday asking the Indian government to be wary of unsolicited mail packages containing seeds. The warning was followed by a high alert in Hyderabad, considered India's seed capital.
The authorities in countries like Japan and Canada warned that these seeds could possibly harm the environment or introduce harmful species when planted.
The National Seed Association of India (NSAI) also issued a warning stating that the impact of seed contamination could overturn the fragile biodiversity in India.
Indra Shekhar Singh, Director-Policy and Outreach, NSAI, told BusinessLine that China has been studying the Indian germplasm and seeds for the last 20-25 years and taking a hybrid parent line back to China. "Such seed terrorism could create a threat to food security. China has much-advanced biotechnology and has the capacity to destroy Indian food production. The NSAI is going to write to the government requesting it to take stringent steps to stop seed contamination," said Singh.
Keshavulu said the seeds may spread crop diseases and can also pose health and environmental problems. "Tests are being conducted in the US and Canada. India needs to be highly vigilant at seaports, airports and all entry points of cargo through road among others," he told The Times of India, adding that those who receive such seeds should approach the police.
Preliminary inquiries by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) also confirmed that such seed packets were likely coming from China, New Indian Express reported.
A report by The Independent said such packages were received in all 50 states in the US, with labels on most packets bearing the source destination of the Chinese city of Suzhou. ISTA vice-president K Keshavulu said information was received about these packages from people in Washington, New York, Virginia and Florida. Florida alone recorded 630 such instances, with many shipments bearing the name of recipients, pointing to a possible data breach, according to The Guardian.
We have received reports of people receiving seeds from China that they did not order. If you receive them - don't plant them. Report to @USDA_APHIS at https://t.co/0U53rbAiHs pic.twitter.com/Y4yAKv5bk7
" WA St Dept of Agr (@WSDAgov) July 24, 2020
However, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has not linked the seeds to agro-terrorism. The agency has said the most likely explanation could be a brushing scam, in which sellers try to boost sales by sending unsolicited items to unsuspecting customers, then post false online reviews of the item.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), meanwhile, took a more stringent view on these mysterious packages. CFAI released a statement on Tuesday, urging citizens to not plant such seeds. "Unauthorised seeds could be the seeds of invasive plants, or carry plant pests, which can be harmful when introduced into Canada," the statement said, while instructing people to hand over such packages, including the mailing labels to concerned regional government offices.
Plant quarantine experts in Yokohoma, Japan also expressed similar concerns over the seeds that appear to be coming from China. ANI quoted local reports as saying that thousands of such suspicious shipments are being received across the world since late June.
Initial investigations have revealed that the seeds include species of morning glory plants, hibiscus, wild rose, fruit, vegetables, herbs, weeds and Japanese knot beads, according to a report. But the adaptation and performance of these non-native varieties remain unknown.
On the other hand, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied that the parcels have anything to do with the country, noting that postmarks indicating their origin are forged, according to a report.