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Dishing the dirt on diseased seeds

Seeds being sown

Members of the public have been urged to be aware when buying seeds online. Some retailers on eBay and Amazon have been selling potentially diseased seeds that could have a major impact on UK biodiversity.

We were first alerted to the problem when we spotted some unusual black and blue strawberry seeds for sale on Amazon. We’re always keen to try something new, and unusually coloured strawberries are just too tempting! While the bright blue strawberries seem highly unlikely we have recently heard rumours of the potential existence of a black strawberry, but haven’t seen them for ourselves just yet.

We placed an order, but were perplexed when the seeds arrived, as they had a Chinese postmark and a false CN22 Customs declaration, listing them as gifts.

Buying seeds online

We contacted ADAS (the Agricultural Consultancy) who explained that a meeting had been organised by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and the seeds industry in October 2014, in a bid to stop trade in this potentially diseased material. It was advised that the industry should forward any sellers’ names on to FERA.

We have now sent the suspect seeds, and the sellers’ details on to the Animal and Plant Health Agency who will test them to see if they are carrying any disease. A spokesperson from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) told us:

‘We are aware of concerns around the online selling of seed from outside the European Union which does not comply with our legislation for quality and plant health. An APHA working group, including UK seed companies, has been created to discuss how best to address this issue.’

In total, 20 eBay sellers and six Amazon sellers from the Far East were reported in the week following the FERA meeting, but it seems that there are still some sellers who are getting through the net.

Have you seen any suspect seeds for sale or have you purchased and grown them? Let us know your experiences and we will forward the details to the correct authorities.

Comments
Rachel says:
31 May 2020

I have just been in touch with Amazon about two extremely suspicious packets of seeds. No labelling, instructions or any information whatsoever. One of them had the customs declaration description of contents as stud earrings – seems to be the same for others. I have asked Amazon to remove these sellers from their site. It’s worrying that they are sending, what could be, harmful seeds to be introduced to the uk biodiversity.
I’m hoping Amazon will remove them, but I really think an organisation like Which should now get involved. Many people in the uk wouldn’t realise it was actually illegal, and damaging to the environment.

Rachel – For a quick overview of the legal position see –
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/plant-health-controls

Describing the seeds as stud earrings for customs clearance purposes is a likely indicator of banned imports. I hope Amazon not only expels the seller from its Marketplace but warns all other sellers of seeds that they must comply with UK law in regard to imports.

Which? has raised awareness of this problem but the enforcement authority is the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate [part of the Animal and Plant Health Agency].

You are absolutely right, Rachel. In the UK and other countries, some non-native plants can become invasive, though most do not. Japanese knotweed is perhaps the best known example and it is so difficult to deal with that it can prevent a house purchaser from getting a mortgage. Invasive aquatic plants choke up watercourses and are difficult or impossible to eradicate. Importing pests and diseases are other problems that many will not appreciate. Loss of biodiversity may not be understood but the economic cost is perhaps easier to relate to.

I cannot find any reference to false customs declarations or importing seeds on the Which? website.

My experience echos your own Rachel. Didn’t realise I was ordering two items from China. Two packets arrived – didn’t read the first but the second had a custom declaration of stud earrings. The enclosed seeds were each in small transparent envelopes and there was nothing to say what they were or who they were from. One packet was something I ordered as seed potatoes, but was I assume potato seeds. I’ve worked with plants all my life and am horrified that clearly very suspect seeds potentially containing diseases etc should be sold on Amazon uk. I am only keeping them in case I need to send them to someone as evidence. I eventually managed to contact Amazon through an online chat and they replied that it was in fact serious, that I should send an email to them which I did and they confirmed was received. I was told someone would contact me the next day. That was several weeks ago and I’ve heard nothing. I’ve contacted my MP but would also appreciate advice from anyone on who else to report this to (I’m in Scotland)

Fiona Rundle says:
22 June 2020

I received Daffodil seeds from a seller in amazon also (I was after bulbs). Again in a small plastic packet with no explanation and a customs declaration of Stud Earrings. I messaged the seller to ask for a free return and they said no. After reading this article I have now reported it to Plant Health control like John mentions below. I only noticed your comments on the article after I sent this. I also want to report to Amazon, but finding the appropriate contact is so hard on Amazon, so wondered if you contacted, I could contact them too, as it sounds like it may be a wider issue. I think I will also add a bad review on the sellers page as I think people should know about this.

Michael says:
1 July 2020

I have just received in the last month 2 lots of seeds from Amazon, which I am very dubious about, I have taken photo’s of the packaging which like you had stud earrings written on it. I to have put a query into Amazon. I will not plant them for the same reason I do not want to damage our environment.

This could actually be a matter for the police, depending on the content. Presumably they are unlikely to be what you ordered. I wonder if anyone has analysed these or others being sold in this way? What safeguards are in place to check products like this?

Rachel says:
31 May 2020

I agree. I’m most certainly not planting them and will send them somewhere to be analysed. Just not sure where!! I’ll look into it!

I would suggest you contact https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs.

However, if the seeds came through an Amazon market place trader I doubt any action can be taken. Amazon are allowed to host traders, and assist them in many cases for financial gain, to put unsafe, dangerous and potentially life-threatening products in UK consumers hands without regulation. That’s alright then.

Jean Levy says:
6 June 2020

I have received 4 separate packets of seeds in grey plastic packets. The sender appears to be from Malaysia. The seed packets say ‘Made in China’. There is no indication as to the identity of the seeds and since I have four packets, I don’t know what they are. The customs declaration says they are stud earrings. I have attempted to germinate one batch, assuming, by a process of elimination, that they were yellow peppers and only one seed has germinated.

Jean Levy says:
7 June 2020

Ref the above 4 packets of seeds … they were ordered through Amazon.

Ruth Barnett says:
8 June 2020

I have just received 3 small packets of seeds from China which I did not order. Judging by the envelope, it seems that they were probably sent as some kind of compensation for a cancelled dress order. I have no idea what they are. The label states ANE0392. I would appreciate advice on how to dispose of them unless I need to hand them in somewhere for analysis. Otherwise I will burn them.

I have also received two packages containing seeds from Malaysia. The first came a couple of weeks ago, in a package with no information and labelled as stud earrings. I was completely stumped as I have ordered seeds but only from credible sources and would never knowingly buy any plants/seeds from outside of the UK and usually as locally as I can from credible suppliers. I searched through all of my search history to see if I could see if I had ordered anything outside of the normal. I could not find anything, so when today, a second package, exactly the same, arrived I did an online search and found this site with people experiencing the same. I am now going to go through my Amazon and Ebay accounts to see if there is any clue there; because I am certain I have not ordered any exotic or unusual seeds.

Paul says:
11 June 2020

I bought seed on Amazon. The packaging on the Amazon site indicated they were British. I’ve just received a package that’s come from Malaysia meant to be broad bean seeds there too small for broad beans. I’m certainly want be planting them. Any suggestions on how to dispose of them safely. I complained to Amazon, but they’re not interested when I looked at this seller. They’ve got lots of five-star ratings, but there clearly fake and when you take down there’s lots of one star’s saying the seasons come from everywhere around the world. It seems lots of complaints shocking that company making as much money as Amazon can’t get their act together. To stop bad rogues.

Rod Billson says:
12 June 2020

I have received seeds arrived from China marked as earring studs. I have contacted the supplier asking what they are playing at, and informed Amazon that they may be breaking the bio security rules. I will not be planting them. There was no indication of the seeds were from China on Amazon. If there is a bio security issue DEFRA should act. Remember Covid 19 came from China!

Kate Cernik says:
24 June 2020

I have received a similar pack of seeds that I have not ordered . This time labelled ‘nail sticker’ . I have ordered vegetable seeds which have not yet arrived. I had assumed they were from the UK or EU. I will destroy both sets. There seems little point in contacting Amazon. Coukd Which take some action please?

Kevin Frederick says:
28 June 2020

I bought some seeds from China through ebay, hostas, monkey face orchid, and others that look like candy red and white. They all grew but just produced weeds like some type of clover and a grass or onion type of plant I contacted ebay but they did not do anything about it and now the sellers have shut down the shop and I suspect they are selling under different names.

J M says:
29 June 2020

Bean Seeds have arrived with Chinese postmark labelled Stud ear rings. What should we do with them? Purchased via Amazon. £2.98.

Tina says:
4 July 2020

I have also just ordered seeds from an Amazon seller and was surprised when I saw that they were being dispatched from China. I should have checked the comments for the seller before placing my order but having done so now see numerous comments ref seed deliveries being marked as stud earrings. I will try to contact Amazon as others have to report this and if I receive the seeds I certainly won’t be planting them.

Mark says:
7 July 2020

Hi I had an issue with Amazon seeds, arrived from Malaysia actually thought at the time of ordering it was a UK based company, packaging said earings, no info in the packet as to what the seeds were, photos are in the review I left:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07X7PFPMB/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

J. Hopking says:
15 July 2020

As of to-day 15/7/20, there are several listings for flower seeds from China, on eBay UK, that I suspect are completely fraudulent. These include rainbow-hued seeds which I do not believe are anything other than artificially coloured pictures, for instance:
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Garden-100PCs-Lily-of-the-valley-Convallaria-Majalis-Flower-Seeds/353138093697?hash=item5238abae81:g:rQAAAOSw8npfDDCv
&
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/50Pcs-Splendid-Rare-Rainbow-Rose-Flower-Seeds-Colorful-Plant-Yard-Garden-Decor/193574441605?hash=item2d11ef9285:g:doMAAOSwwBReu6Dn

In the case of Lily of the Valley, the title lists 100 seeds & the text says 1-5 & when I tried to report the item as a Misleading Title, the usual options did not appear. A few weeks ago, a Chinese seller’s feedback was not shown (many feedback scores for China are very low) & it later reappeared as 100%, which seemed unlikely. I suspect that the actual site details are being manipulated by the sellers but there is no longer any way for the public to contact eBay on matters not shown automatically.

Anik Messier says:
29 July 2020

I have to pack of Chinese seeds that I did not order in my possession. One is labelled only in Chinese and the other one is labelled “Rose gift. Thanks! Please all 5 stars, ok?” What should I do with these seeds? I would like to hand them over to authorities.

Catherine Milbourn says:
1 August 2020

I have just listened to a report on Radio 4 about suspect seeds and it has left me concerned about some seeds I obtained from Amazon. I ordered two packets of these seeds-one orange and one blue.
‘SEED CORNER – 100pcs Rare Black-Eyed Susan Vine Thunbergia, Easy to Grow, Exotic Flower Seeds Hardy Perennial Garden’
The seeds took about two months to arrive and the package was marked Malaysia. The customs declaration said they were earrings. The small plastic packets were not labeled but did have a serial number. Luckily I did not plant them in the garden but planted a few in pots. When the plants grew they produced small purple/pink flowers and were obviously not the Black Eyed Susan vine. I contacted the seller through Amazon. They responded by email and requested pictures of the packets and the plants. I sent the pictures by return email but have not had any reply. I also complained to Amazon. I have burned the plants but am wondering what to do with the remaining seeds?

Nikki Mills says:
2 August 2020

I have received seeds supposed to be clematis, out of the 25 only one came up, thankfully my parents are keen gardeners and told me what we had grown was Japanese knotweed!! I disposed of it and contact the seller they have sent me more and look exactly the same – needless to say I won’t be planting them 😬 I will contact eBay but do I need to be contacting anyone else?

Arlene Vincent says:
5 August 2020

I unfortunately received seeds from China with no documentation. I will no longer be buying seeds from amazon. Please can some tell me the safest way to dispose of them? TIA

Carol D Johnson says:
14 August 2020

14th August 2020. I too, have had the same experience. I ordered Wildflowers with the idea of scattering them in my lawn! They arrived after 2 months, labelled stud earring. I will not plant them but will burn them.

May Taylor says:
22 August 2020

I’ve just received a small package of seeds, same as everyone else marked rose stud earrings and came from China. I had ordered pansies, so searched online and found this conversation, thank you I will not be planting and will be in touch with Amazon.