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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 impressed. However after reading the above article we won’t be purchasing these and Aliexpress and Wish (another app) may need looking at.

I just placed a large order with SEEDVILLE via Amazon. Imagine my dismay when the first package arrived labeled on the outside as “Wall Stickers”!

I don’t know where to report these in the US. I couldn’t even find a way to report it to Amazon, other than through the product reviews.

I’m in the US, and looking to learn who to report this to, and what I should do with all these seed packets.

Please advise!

Here’s the letter I’m sending to anyone who seems appropriate:

These seeds came from CHINA and the shipping doc identified them as “wall stickers.”

Seedville’s name was nowhere on the package or the seed envelops.

I ordered several packets of food plant seed from SEEDVILLE via Amazon.

The 3 packets I have so far are in what looks like heat-sealed Mylar.

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Hi Christa, thanks for your comment. I’m not too sure of the appropriate route for redress as I should imagine that it differs to the UK. However, details for returning Amazon orders can be found here http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200572800

Hi Christa. My name is Heather, & I am the owner of Seedville USA. I just happened to find this post of yours from a year ago when searching for something, & wanted to clear some things up. First of all, I am VERY sorry to hear about your experience for many reasons. Seedville USA is 100% based in the United States. We do all of our business from the state of Ohio, & every product we ship comes comes directly from us in Ohio. We have personally designed every single one of our products, labels, taken & selected photos, & package all of our own seeds in house. I stated from absolute scratch with the seeds in my own backyard & the help of family, & we have grown the business over the past 8 years. Our customers matter to us, as does our integrity. Unfortunately, as our sales & ratings grew, this also attracted the unwanted attention of vultures & copycats. It’s a very long story in total, but you are living proof of what the end result can be. Some jerk in China that I do not know, have no association with, & who has absolutely no right to our name, etc, basically just copied us & falsely used the name because it IS a reputable name. Again, we have been fighting to put a stop to this, as we in Canton Ohio are the one & only source of Seedville USA seeds. If your package was from China, it was not really from Seedville USA. We do put our Seedville name & Ohio address on every package. When we do ship overseas, we always state “seeds” on the customs form, etc, but since you are in the US you’d not have had a customs form on your package since we are also in the US. Again, I am very sorry that you had this experience, & urge you to personally contact me if there is anything I can do to make things right for you. I am not at all upset that you reported this, & in fact am actually happy that you did, as it may help us to fight the good fight. Every time I catch one of these turkeys I report them too. These copycats are making us look bad. I’m a gardener, not a lawyer, but I have found that it is very difficult to battle international copyright infringement. // The best advice I can give on how to tell the difference on an Amazon listing with multiple sellers is to click the list of sellers (supposedly) offering the product. That page shows the “seller information” which is the name of the actual store/seller it is coming from. In the “delivery” column on this page, it should show where (the country, etc) the product is shipping from, along with the estimated delivery time. Ours all say ships from “Seedville USA” & that it’s from the USA, & depending on your zip code, a delivery time of just a few days. If it says another company’s name & that it’s shipping from Hong Kong or Germany, etc, & has a delivery time of about a month, it is NOT from us. Again I encourage yourself or anyone with questions or concerns to please contact us. We can be messaged through the Amazon marketplace, at the email address below, or at Seedville USA on Facebook. Thank you! – Heather

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Perhaps Which? could ask Amazon for a comment. It would be interesting for us here in the UK on how it facilitates these sort of fraud.

As the original story was December 2014 has there been any more information or any further research that could be shared?

duncan, people will generally post complaints, but does the same proportion of people post good reports? I think most of us take normal service as what we expect so it does not merit comment.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I think it is good for us to wind ourselves up from time to time and release some energy on consumer problems and it often has good outcomes. Even exaggeration can be effective up to a point. But I don’t think a generalised diatribe on the UK public and their chosen government is going to make much impact. I would guess that the proportion of rogue traders and dodgy products is extremely small due to the work of Which? and other consumer organisations and the powerful media that we [usually] enjoy in this country.

I don’t think Which? Conversation has ever been a “British Public Help Website”; it is capable of helping people and often does – in a random manner – but that is not its primary purpose. I would not wish people to think that was its role as it might build up expectations that the contributors are incapable of meeting. Our usual approach is to guide people to where the help they need is available and to answer straightforward questions of fact, but as you well know, Duncan, the full circumstances of any situation are rarely revealed so any advice has to be limited and cautioned. I suspect the real value to Which? of our input is in our opinions and experiences rather than our knowledge – which Which? has in abundance.

I do not seek to suppress anyone’s views , nor to suggest consumers are dumb; quite the opposite. Some of us are not complainers as soon as something goes wrong, whilst others are and it takes all kinds. I would like to think of Which? as the principal vehicle for consumers to improve products and services where repeated problems occur, simply because, although it is a Members’ organisation, I don’t know of any other publicly-accessible body that I can approach to fulfill that same role, particularly with the partial demise of trading Standards.

I’d suggest these Convos are good for collecting views and information that Which? can consider as part of its campaigning and testing. Which? Members can also communicate concerns with Which? directly. I’d suggest doing that by email rather than through the Members’ forum which seems little used.

As a recent customer of SeedvilleUSA ( and a responsible gardener and countryside supporter )via Amazon in the UK I can absolutely confirm the comments recorded by Heather, owner of Seedville USA. I purchased a small quantity of Organic oat seed 3 x 200g Avena Sativa. The brown padded envelope was fully compliant with customs declarations and clearly marked “Seeds”It had the full address of the business in Canton Ohio also on the front of envelope. w A business card was enclosed with full details of social media sites and usual contact details
They enclosed a gift of Utah celery seeds. ( I will try to grow since some US varieties seem to do well in our Winter climate in West Country. With regard to another comment re Heather’s post I also buy from the excellent Tuckers in Crediton) I must say that the old adage holds good. Caveat Emptor or Buyer beware. I looked carefully on the Amazon listing and satisfied myself. Seedville represent a decent straightforward business not a fraudulent company trying trying to part the gullible from their cash. I will buy from them again with total confidence and interest.

Most countries have restrictions on the importation of seeds and plants for good reasons. I don’t know the public administration structure in the USA but I expect there is a municipal authority that should be informed so that the matter can be investigated. I can appreciate that you want your money back from Amazon but it is also important to ensure that no illegal activity is taking place.

I am a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, and also Garden Organic [formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Association] and both sell seeds particularly heritage ones. With Garden Organic tomorrow is the last day to order to hopefully receive heritage seeds. This is as part of your membership.

This sounds delightful:
Vietnamese mustard can be stir-fried or mixed with other
salad leaves. Worth growing for its flavour – it has a sweet
taste with a peppery kick, but not quite as ferocious as
winter mustards. Before it flowers it produces tiny broccoli-
like lime green florets, which are great for adding flavour
and texture to salads

Also in their monthly magazines they discuss the problems of imported seeds and the dangerous fungi affecting plants. This is actually a major concern as both olive and citrus trees are being decimated currently and the vector is travelling north.

I do have a book on beetroots and there is a huge range not used by commercial growers that offer much more interest and taste.

Essentially I am against the free importation of plants and seeds as there have been too many cases of rogue plants escaping and diseases spreading. That Ebay and Amazon connive in the trade is woeful.

Mary says:
30 June 2016

Selections of seeds and plants range from paltry to nonexistent in Canada. Importation fees and phytosanitary certificates unfortunately means most sellers from the US and UK refuse to ship plants to Canada or ship with the risk of customs seizing the package.

I’m not sure about the legality elsewhere, but small packages of seeds of plants not on the invasive species list are legal to import without a permit in Canada, so importing exotic plants as seeds is still option.

aliexpress sells a lot of seeds from china.

I bought a packet of strawberry sees and apple, orange, guava,grapes, pomegranate at a same time.when it delivered I tried to grow them but none of them were germinate.i just love to plant strawberry but I am suspicious to buy seeds online.where can I buy them? Please recommend

Stew says:
26 August 2017

Plants can carry diseases, but seeds almost never do.

I have noticed that germination rates have been reducing over the last couple of years. I have always purchased seed from ‘reputable’ UK seed companies. I have had the most problems with seeds from Wallis Seeds (this was reported to them last September and they have never responded). I will now be contacting any seed company where germination rates are poor, seed is now relatively expensive and so far this year 3 varieties of chilli have failed to geminate. This is new seed from a reputable company, the chilli seeds that came free with a gardening magazine however have shown 100% germination! It is not just the cost of the seed, in the case of the chillis £6, but also the loss or delay that occurs, particulalry if you are growing vegetables.

I, too, have received seeds from China via Amazon. These are grass seeds of a specialist and oriental species. However, the Custom Declaration wrongly describes the seeds as ‘Stud earrings’, supposedly to avoid being stopped in transit. I have contacted Amazon but they are avoiding the issue by passing me on to the seller. They don’t appear to be concerned with the illegality of a fraudulent declaration. The seeds are remaining in the packet and will either be returned or burnt. The issue is in progress.

Lorraine Smith says:
16 August 2019

Hello I purchased seeds from amazon. I noticed after purchasing the delivery date was some way off . I have just had a package delivered from China where the customs declaration states glass stud earring, I couldn’t remember ordering this. On opening there are seeds different shapes, sizes and colours. All writing is in Chinese so I am jumping to the conclusion that this is the seeds I purchased from amazon . Is this legal to falsify documents? I would never have purchased them if I knew they were being imported from China

I am assuming that it is illegal to import seeds into the UK except under special conditions [to prevent botanical contamination]. If that is the case then the supplier is falsifying the consignment to prevent detection.

It might be that Defra [the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs] might be able to give you some information on this. Or you could contact Trading Standards via Citizens Advice.

I hesitate to recommend you to report it to the police who are struggling to keep on top of terrorism and dreadful crimes but it would not hurt to see if they would take the matter further.

Amazon obviously have a part to play in stamping out fraudulent activity and I certainly advise you to report it to them with the request that they investigate and hopefully remove the seller from their Marketplace.

Hi Lorraine, do you have the website address for the seeds?

If you add a space after the http: your post won’t get held up until the moderators pass it.

The type of seed is relevant. This official document lists the species for which the import of seeds is controlled: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/importing-plants-fruit-vegetables-or-plant-material-to-the-uk

jame says:
11 April 2020

Why does ebay allow buyers from china and eu and what about public selling seeds to each other at garden allotments and shows is this illegal? I can buy seeds through amazon Europe and seeds from Europe are fine right? People giving each other plants grown with seeds from china are they breaking law?

jame says:
11 April 2020

I have seen a cactus which gets you high sold on ebay and told them they did nothing as well as pdf fake books. Its money over rules for online retailers as even software company told me they know fakes of their software is being sold online but too much for them to keep reporting to ebay about. Then people say why is china so rich when they can sell 10 seeds for £1 and selling thousands or millions a minute online. This might be crazy estimates but big money in fraud. They sell a venus flytrap seeds with picture of little shop horror, or rainbow roses and blue ones and different colored raspberries. They have programs telling you that make up sold online contained asbestos,lead and other toxins and they can’t stop that either. They sell fake clothes shoes in genuine retailers online, so not much hope with online auctions. I remember the horse meat scandal and fake wines in supermarkets. The amount of fakes coming from china is too much for any organization to stop.

This is clearly still ongoing as I’ve just received an order from Amazon for wildflower seeds – I had no idea the seller was from China, and they just arrived via Austria, with my phone number on the front of the package!

Colin Morgan says:
18 May 2020

We also (foolishly) ordered a variety of Strawberry seed from amazon advertised as “Ultrey Seed House – 100 Pieces White Pineapple-Strawberry Large-cropped Strawberry Seeds Aromatic Fruit Fruit Seeds Perennial Hardy”. The arrived from Malaysia and the customs declaration stated “Stud earing”. This raised my suspicion and I found this Which conversation via the web. I shan’t be planting them….