If you've ever wondered where those vegetable seeds you sow come from, the answer of late seems to be in mysterious little packages from somewhere in China.
You may have caught the recent headlines about thousands of Americans receiving what appear to be seeds of cucumbers, peppers and other popular plants of the home vegetable garden.
As of last week, the Agriculture Department had received 10,136 emails and 1,004 calls from residents in all 50 states; Washington, D.C.; and Puerto Rico about the seeds. From them, it has collected almost 9,000 seed packages.
Some were mailed from China after the recipients ordered seed through online retailers. Other packages were unsolicited as part of what officials believe was a scheme to generate false online ratings.
The problem? The senders circumvented the official channels for seed importation, leaving the department and other public agencies scrambling to figure out how the seeds got through and to block additional shipments.
Normally, imported seeds require a health certificate from the agriculture ministry in the originating country and often an import permit, too. As a rule, the packages are screened by plant inspectors in the United States before delivery to the recipient.
The authorities have reason to be vigilant. A new pest or disease from overseas can cause havoc in specific crops, just as the novel coronavirus attacks humans with no inbuilt resistance to it.