In recent months, EU Citizens have been receiving unsolicited small-sized packages of seeds in the post sent by on-line retailers based in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Vanuatu and Malaysia.
These packages were misdeclared as "other goods" (e.g. jewellery, gifts, earrings) and the required phytosanitary certificate did not accompany them.
In July 2020, DG SANTE was informed and subsequently launched a reporting request to all Member States to investigate the situation in their territories and report their findings to the Commission. Some Member States have already reported several cases and have been carrying out investigations on these consignments. The EU Commission is in close contact with law enforcement agencies and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) to tackle this issue.
According to EU legislation on the marketing of seeds of agricultural and vegetable crops, importing seeds from the referred third countries are illegal. Seed introduction (for non-commercial purposes) into the EU is only allowed when accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate..
As no EU seed equivalence has been established with these third-countries, they do not offer the equivalent guarantees as in the EU for identity (species, varieties), health (so-called quarantine and quality pests), and quality (e.g. germination, noxious weeds) of the seeds.
Regarding seeds of ornamental plants, it is the importer's responsibility to ensure that all EU requirements are met and the Member States' authorities have to be informed of the imports to allow controls if necessary.
Plant Health concerns are under investigation (also regarding invasive plant species that might threaten native plants and crops, or potentially introduce diseases or harm livestock or the environment). In some cases, the packages contain more than one genus of seeds, with plant debris, soil, insect larvae and associated insect damage as well as evidence of fungal structures.
At this time, there is noevidence indicating this is something other than a "brushing scam" where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales.
Competent authorities in the Member States have launched public awareness actions on web sites, as well as traditional and social Media, calling on citizens not to open the packages, not to plant the seeds and to report the suspicious packages to competent authorities in the Member States with a view tol destroy them in a secure manner, after performing their own verifications.
The EU Commission recommends anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds to contact their competent authority immediately.
In recent months, consumers across the EU have been reporting receiving unsolicited packages of seeds. These seeds could introduce pests or diseases, which could harm the EU environment and agriculture. The European Commission has been working closely with Plant Health Authorities in EU Member States to evaluate the situation.
Other authorities, including the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), are also involved due to the fraudulent aspect of this distribution of seeds.
Anyone who receives an unsolicited package of seeds should follow these steps:
- Do not open or manipulate the seed packets in any way.
- Keep the seeds, the packaging, any invoices/receipts and the shipping label.
- Do not plant the seeds.
- If the packets are already open or damaged, seal the seeds and packaging in a plastic bag.
- Place the seeds, the packaging, any invoices/receipts and the shipping label in an envelope. Include your name, address, and phone number. This information is required so the competent authorities in your Country can contact you for additional information should it be necessary.
- Contact the Plant Health Authority of your country to receive further instructions
- Your Countries Plant Health Authority will test the seeds to determine whether they represent a threat or not.
- Contact the Plant Health Authority of your country to agree on next steps.
- Take pictures of the seeds and any packaging and invoices, including the shipping label.
- Remove the seeds or plants you planted together with at least eight centimeters of the surrounding soil.
- Place both those seeds/plants and the soil inside an airtight plastic bag.
- Place this bag inside a second plastic bag and vacuum seal the bag.
- Put the bag in the municipal trash. Do not compost it.
- If you planted the seeds in reusable pots or containers, wash the planting container with soap and water to remove any remaining dirt. Wash the container over a sink or another container to catch the run-off water, which you should throw down a drain or flush down a toilet.
- Soak the clean planting container in a 10 percent bleach and water solution for 30 minutes.
- There has been no report of any medical health risks at present.
- Nevertheless, as a precautionary measure, you should wear gloves and limit touching the seeds.
- People who believe they are experiencing side effects after touching these seeds should contact their health practitioner.
- EU Member States and other agencies (e.g. OLAF) are working closely with online retailers.
- Consumers who received packages of unsolicited seeds may want to consider changing their password on the e-commerce website.
- If consumers are concerned about account security, or to lodge a complaint about fraudulent use of their personal information, they may want to contact the e-commerce company.
- Seeds for planting pose a significant risk for the EU environment, agriculture and natural resources because they can carry seed-borne viruses or other diseases or could introduce invasive alien species.
- Imported vegetable or agricultural seeds must meet labeling and phytosanitary requirements and be inspected by the national authorities.
- According to reports from Member States, it appears that most of the packages have been unsolicited.
- These packages are probably part of an Internet brushing scam where an online seller, usually overseas, creates fake online accounts and posts positive product reviews to boost their rating on the e-commerce site.
- Before an e-commerce site considers an order valid, the shipping process must have completed.
- Sellers who carry out brushing scams will often ship inexpensive items with a view to increase their seller ratings.
- The EU Commission has provided provide guidance to online sellers, postal service and customs authorities, to return suspect seeds packets.
- It is also actively working with Member States, to improve targeting and enforcement to deter illegal trade on the international mail pathway as well aswith e-commerce companies to remove online sellers that are illegally importing or facilitating the illegal import of propagative materials, including seeds.
- The EU Commission has also intensified its engagement with e-commerce companies to ensure they and the sellers who use their platforms comply with EU regulations.
- The EU Commission is working with counterparts in non-EU countries, to determine who is sending these packages.
- The Member States are collecting and testing as many seeds as possible to determine whether these packets represent a threat to EU environment and agriculture, but also to identify the senders.
- After completion of the tests, seeds are destroyed.
- There was no indication the seeds were genetically modified.
- The tested seeds do not belong to an endangered plant species.
- Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and the US also reported that their citizens had received unsolicited seed packages.
- The EU has not identified all the sources of the seeds packages yet, but based on the postmarks the vast majority of packages were mailed from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Vanuatu, Thailand, Kyrgystan, Malaysia, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Malta, Germany, UK, one package from Belgium and one package from USA.
- The most important thing you can do to help within this situation is to report your unsolicited seeds to your national authority of your Member State.
- Before buying seeds or other planting material online, make sure you know where that material is coming from and any import requirements for that country. Imported seeds require a permit from the EU or a phytosanitary certificate issued by the country of origin.
- Any seeds sourced outside the EU, request that documentation, and buy seeds from trusted suppliers only.
- Online retailers may also promise new seeds and plants that are too good to be true, and buyers may not receive what they expected.
- With the public’s help, we can safeguard the EU food crops and natural resources and raise global awareness of how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.
- Online purchases of plants, seeds, and other plant products can be risky because these items can carry a range of invasive pests and diseases.
- These purchases can also be illegal without proper inspections and paperwork, such as permits or plant health certificates.
- A phytosanitary certificate issued by the government of the country of origin for all imported seeds, plants, plant parts for planting must be included. This certificate attests that the plant material is free of invasive plant pests and diseases.
- Buyers should ask the seller to make sure this certificate is included in the package with the plant material.