Eatonton Police Chief Kent Lawrence said someone called him this morning and reported they had received a package of seeds in the mail from China. Lawrence said the Department of Agriculture has been notified, and he wants Eatonton residents to be aware that the seeds are arriving in this area.
“Do not open them and especially don’t plant them,” he said. “Also, don’t throw them away. (It’s not known) yet what will happen if they get out or are planted. Please follow the Department of Agriculture’s instructions.”
Putnam County UGA Extension Coordinator Keith Fielder is urging everyone to take these packages seriously because they are not a joke.
He has a half-dozen colleagues in other states who have residents in their counties that have received them. Fielder said it's a mystery why someone in China would choose to ship packages to a different country, and he noted that many of the packages are marked 'jewelry' so as to entice the recipient to open it.
"If you received a package and you didn't order it, you can bet that it's not good," he said, adding "Nobody is going to send you anything for free. Do not open it."
Fielder noted that even if the seeds can be identified by sight and look legitimate, they could still be infected with some sort of disease pathogen.
"If you get a package from China that you did not order, don't even take it into your house," he advised. "And don't take a chance and open it just because you're curious. You don't know what you could expose yourself to."
If such a package is received, it should be sent to the Georgia Department of Agriculture so it can be opened under controlled circumstances, tested and disposed of properly. Fielder said all of the state's ag departments are working together to figure out where the packages are coming from and logging information so a case can be built against the senders.
Even if no pathogen is in the package, the situation should still be taken seriously, Fielder noted.
"It should bother us that somebody in China knows your address," he said. "This is not somebody having fun; this is serious."
He said the instances are being treated as agriculture terrorism.
Fielder can be reached at 706-485-4151.
According to the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s website, Commissioner Gary Black has also issued a warning about the seeds, saying the GDA has been notified that several Georgia residents have received unsolicited packages of seeds.
“At this time, we are not sure what the seeds are and therefore are urging everyone to be exceedingly vigilant," Black is quoted saying in a press release on the website. "If you have received one of these packages in the mail, please use extreme caution by not touching the contents and securing the package in a plastic bag."
The GDA notice says the types of seeds in the packages are unknown, but may be an invasive plant species. The packages were sent by mail and may have Chinese writing on them.
Invasive species wreak havoc on the environment, displace or destroy native plants and insects and severely damage crops. Taking steps to prevent their introduction is the most effective method of reducing both the risk of invasive species infestations and the cost to control and mitigate those infestations.
No photo of the seeds received in Eatonton were available at the time of this report; only one person has reported receiving the seeds.
Anyone who has received unsolicited seeds in the mail from China or any other country is encouraged to contact the GDA Seed Lab at 229-386-3145 or email SeedLab@agr.georgia.gov.