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UPDATE: Authorities begin to identify suspicious seeds

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Johnson County received its first report of unsolicited seeds in connection with a national surge at the end of July. Since then, botanists have identified select seeds, including cabbage, hibiscus, lavender, mint, morning glory, mustard, rose, rosemary, and sage. Concerns are still widespread, but the Tennessee Department of Health states that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) believes that this is part of a brushing scam.

According to a statement from APHIS’s Deputy Administrator for the plant protection and quarantine, Osama El-Lissy, during an August 11 broadcast, authorities do know the names of the companies involved but not their backgrounds. The authorities are working with their Chinese counterparts to further unravel the mystery. So far, there are no obvious signs of ill intent.

“While we have no reason at this time to suspect that these seeds were sent with ill intention, we want to take every precaution to be sure an invasive or otherwise threatening plant species doesn’t take hold here,” said Tennessee Department of Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) suggests two different actions for those who receive seeds. Either package all materials and send them to APHIS or fill out the available form and dispose of seeds. Authorities say they prefer the former option.

“Seal the seeds into two plastic bags and send all packaging to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, attention Plant Certification,” the TDA instructs. “The original envelope, as well as any paperwork or enclosures and the bag of seeds, should be included along with the recipient’s name, contact information, and full address.”

The USDA has set places to send seeds based on location. Find these by the state at Tennessee’s set location is the USDA APHIS PPQ at 1410 Kensington Square Court, Suite 1010 in Murfreesboro, TN. At this point, officials are being cautious.

“We are not aware of any human health risks at this time,” the USDA explained. “In an abundance of caution, people should wear gloves and limit touching the material. People who believe they are experiencing a health issue as a result of touching these seeds should contact their medical provider.”

Keep an eye out for updates from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture at or on Facebook @TNAgriculture.