SIOUX CITY -- Small seed packages are arriving in postal boxes and agricultural officials have a key tip: Do not plant them.
The small packets with purported China postal codes started arriving in late July to people who didn't order any seeds, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says there is no known risk to humans from the seeds.
Kevin Pottebaum, a spokesman for the Woodbury County Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, on Monday said the USDA six-page summary about the seeds came out the very morning a person called the Sioux City office to inquire about being mailed unsolicited seeds last week. Since that time, many Siouxlanders have received the tiny packages, which weigh mere ounces.
"It is definitely odd," Pottebaum said. "This kind of caught everybody off guard."
The USDA is telling people not to open the packets or plant any seeds. The agency wants people to save the seeds and the package they came in, including the mailing label, and mail them to the state agriculture departments.
The concern lies with the potential for the seeds to introduce damaging pests or diseases that could harm agricultural products.
"We are not aware of any human health risks at this time. In an abundance of caution, people should wear gloves and limit touching the material," the USDA says.
The agriculture agency is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Postal Service on the issue. USDA said most packets seem to be a mix of ornamental, fruit, vegetable, herb and weed species.
So far, more than 20 states have had residents who received the seeds, and people in other nations have also been mailing targets.
Pottebaum said people who recently purchased products online appear to be the recipients of the seed packages, a point the USDA also made. That was the case with the person who first called Pottebaum last week, and other people who received the packets also had gotten items online, they told The Journal.
The USDA says anyone who planted the seeds should remove them by digging at least three inches of surrounding soil and placing it in a plastic bag.
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