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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.


Invasive species are a big problem. I have pulled enough Himalayan balsam in my time and feel grateful not to have encountered Japanese knotweed.

It is practical to control what established seed merchants do, but individuals and small traders selling via Amazon and eBay could mean that the problem of invasive species becomes very much larger than it is at present.


I bought off ebay and the outcome was not at all good, those said to be double bloom were nothing like that, in cosmos. The sweetpea were very weak and i only recall ONE two tone flower from several packets of so call species colours, that were meant to be blue and other shades in single colours. I think the only thing that grew reasonably well was the calendula, but then that is an easy one to grow normally. I also had loads of non germinating too. I am fairly good at seed growing and sold my spares at the gate in the past, grew for wedding flowers one year so they had to be ready on time so I know what i am doing. Took gardening with disabled and married to a gardener, so loads of experience there. ideally I know which firm I should buy from in West country as 100% germination but they are a bit pricey and i needed to go careful with my money, but as I have found lesson learned the hard way. Having said all this not all well known seed suppliers in Uk stuff grows either. I just learn who to avoid in case the seed has gone stale and look for foil sealed packets when buying in a garden centre.


Perhaps this should join the other Conversation’s thread on buying cheaply from abroad a nd paying duty.

But yes very worrying that rogue seeds are being imported without control from abroad. Is it worrying that eBay and Amazon are facilitating the process. I assume that they have the capability to monitor where companies are based and whether what they offer seems abnormal.


I think it is about time that Which? investigated what is being sold online and how online traders are operating. Most people see only the benefits, but look in detail and there is a lot to be concerned about. I don’t want to take this Conversation off topic but perhaps we should take the opportunity to mention problems where appropriate in other Conversations.


There appears to be little restriction on the importation of seeds from outside the EU – certainly for private imports of seeds packed for retail sale. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/385746/guide-plant-importers.pdf

I like growing from seed but stick with suppliers such as Thomson and Morgan, Chiltern Seeds. More than enough choice there. Looking on Amazon you have to wonder at a packet of strawberry seed that produces 6 different colour fruits, and roses where each petal is a different colour.


you can buy cheaply from seed companies here and get ok seeds, if they are still around there is wallis seeds which are often good value, i think I was paying same price as the ebay duds, but wanted certain ones that were not with this company. Was unable to do any serious gardening last year so did not do a lot of buying from various firms. Another firm,that sells basic not a lot of varieties in Devon i think it is, is Tuckers, they are beer making supplies too, so if you want typical annuals without any new varieties these will serve you well. The firm that you will get 100% germination as all the seed is definitely fresh that year is Plant world but they will cost you more and have lot of unusuals rather then run of the mill seeds.

derick (allotmentlazyness) says:
27 December 2014

i have in the past week ordered some black and blue strawberrys on ebay so they are out there, and i have been told that there are no blue strawberrys. i am intrested about what i should do, inform the agencys or just throw the seeds away unopened as they already know of the problem, any ideas will be welcome, thanks


you could contact ebay themselves and ask for the order to be refunded. there are means to ask this so worth a try. Mention where you have got the facts from, they can stop a trader if they want to stop selling stuff or not allow the sellor even on site, but they could try under a new name shop. If it arrives then go through the process of goods not acceptable for your reason and ask for refund. it is not difficult to do.

Norton says:
29 December 2014

I was looking on a app on my iPad called Aliexpress for gifts all the products come from the Far East and I came across many seeds for sale. At first I thought they looked fun and that my kids would be more than i