USDA Updates Importing Guidelines for Seeds Following Investigation Into Unsolicited Seed Packages

On Thursday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) clarified its guidelines for buying plants online and, specifically, importing plants and seeds through e-commerce. 

“People and businesses that buy or sell plants and seeds for planting from another country through an e-commerce site must comply with all applicable U.S. import requirements, including obtaining an import permit from APHIS, obtaining a phytosanitary certificate from the national plant protection organization of the country of origin, properly labeling and shipping the plants and seed, and meeting unique requirements for certain plant species and seed types,” the updated APHIS website said

This action reportedly comes after a “months-long investigation” into reports from many Americans who received packages containing seeds that they had not ordered. The seeds began arriving in July 2020. The investigation reportedly found that although some of the seeds were sent to those who had not ordered them, others had but were unaware that they were purchasing a product that would come from another country. 

APHIS explained that many of the shipments were illegal, even those which were solicited, because they did not have a permit or phytosanitary certificate. Although those who received packages were asked not to plant the seeds and report them.  APHIS reported that there was not any evidence that the seeds were sent in an effort to harm United States agriculture, instead, it is likely that the sellers were attempting to increase transactions and ratings by shipping inexpensive items. 

The updated guidelines included steps for import permits, phytosanitary certificates, plants with certain import requirements, and information about which plants and seeds are not allowed in the United States. 

Plant Protection and Quarantine Program Deputy Administrator Dr. Osama El-Lissy said “plants and seeds for planting purchased online from other countries can pose a significant risk to U.S. agriculture and natural resources because they can carry harmful insects and pathogens … We’ve been working closely with e-commerce companies and other federal partners to stop the flow of illegal plant and seed shipments from entering the country.