Do not plant that seed!
Do not plant that seed!

Do not plant that seed!

Mysterious seeds are arriving in our mail all across Canada

In early August, my lovely cousin Pat messaged me about a package she received in the mail that sparked my interest. She had received a package of seeds, however, she did not order them, and they were not sent from a friend elsewhere in Canada or the USA. Instead, they mysteriously arrived in the mail completely unsolicited. Luckily, she had remembered seeing something about this on TV suggesting to turn them in, and she was looking for help on how to do so. Before jumping into it all, let us first cover what to do if you receive seeds in the mail in the future, and later cover why these are a threat, and who is doing this.

What to do with the seed

If you have received seeds in the mail, first, take a picture of the packaging and content. It is important to keep proof of the content and address from which it came from. Next, contact your local or regional Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officer. Do not skip this step! By contacting your CFIA officer, they can help you to handle the contents (or pop them in the mail and ship them off to your local CFIA office like my cousin Pat).  Also, your assistance can help to shine more light into these mysterious seeds showing up in mailboxes across North American. Here is a list of things to follow:

  1. Contact your CFIA officer.
  2. By any means, do not plant the seeds you received.
  3. Do not dispose of seeds in the garbage or the compost.
  4. Do not put the seeds with your other seeds or gardening supplies.
  5. Unless instructed by your CFIA officer, do not burn or dispose of your seeds.
Why you need to contact CFIA and keep the seeds safe

Have you ever wondered why when re-entering Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) inquires and sometimes inspects your luggage if you state that you have been to a farm out of the country, or that you bring back any food or seeds? As a child, I always thought it was so odd. However, as an agricultural economist, I have learned just how important these questions are at protecting our agriculture, environment, health, and animals. One extreme case is how easily a mere soil deposit on your shoes can spread BSE (and other diseases) from one farm to another. Knowing this, the CBSA inquires about your activity on international farms, to ensure you have sanitized all items before returning to Canada.

Together the CBSA and CFIA work to keep Canada’s food and environmental systems safe for consumers, animals, and the ecosystem. Everything that we import into Canada in the form of food, plants and animal products needs to be approved for entry, as those items could easily pose the threat of introducing a pathogen, disease, pest or invasive species which could harm our health, food supply, or ecosystem. Since seeds can lead to invasive species, as well as can carry other living materials such as fungi or bacteria, they can also be diseased. Many of the invasive species in Canada date back to early immigrates,  who brought them over that were mingled in their seed, their packing, and some were even introduced on purpose, eventually invading on the native species. While the risks are not always extreme these days thanks to the enforcement of regulations from transporting food, plants or animals, the appearance of foreign seed can still have negative impacts if allowed to grow. Take for instance a story from Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café of how a small plant took over a backyard in the ‘Mexican Climbing Mint’. So when a strange package of seeds arrive in your mailbox, you should contact the CFIA, as they know seeds have and have not been approved and are safe to have in Canada. Not contacting them or properly disposing of the seed could lead to future issues to the ecosystem, our animals, and potentially affect our agricultural practices.

Small seeds by big risks

Since you did not order the seeds, you cannot be certain of what seed you have been sent. One of the risks of that it is an invasive species to your area. The result of this could be the destruction and displacement of native plants, the spread across natural, residential, and agricultural lands, which can deplete resources and be difficult to destroy. This all may sound extreme, but I beg to differ. Agriculture already invests so much time and resources to manage the weeds we currently have. By preventing the spread of other invasive species from international seed, we are protecting our current agriculture and trying to maintain our chemical use. In 2008 in a report by the CFIA, Canada’s weed management cost roughly $2.2 billion annually for crop and pastures alone; the risk of an invasive species would only further increase this cost and could cause greater environmental impacts.

Nevertheless, why are these seeds being sent to you?

It is not yet known why these mysterious, unsolicited seeds are popping up across mailboxes in Canada and the USA. However, we do know that these seeds are being shipped from China and are raising concern for both Canada’s CFIA and the USA’s Department of Agriculture (also accruing in other nations Australia, Japan and the European Union). Both nations are investigating these mailed seed packages. What we do need to remember is first, do not buy seed online from a seller outside of Canada or one that is not certified to sell seed into Canada. According to the Wall Street Journal, the USDA is working with its Chinese counterparts to try and find the culprits and end these shipments. Next, if you receive suspicious seeds, contact the CFIA and remember they have not been inspected of inspected, and there is a chance they could be an invasive species, have a disease, be host to a pest, or have other negative environmental impacts such as being toxic to animals.

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