Dozens of packets of mystery seeds from Asia have arrived at Australian addresses prompting fears of a biosecurity breach that could wreak havoc on the environment and farm industries.
Authorities do not know who sent the seeds, or even what varieties the seeds are.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment said 36 packages containing unidentified seeds had arrived at addresses across all Australian states over the past five weeks.
The unsolicited seeds were predominantly from China, Malaysia and Taiwan.
A department spokeswoman said the seeds were yet to be identified and an investigation into their variety and origin continued.
‘A few conspiracy theories’
It has prompted industry group the Australian Seed Federation (ASF) to call on Australians to immediately report any unsolicited seeds to the Department of Agriculture Water and Environment.
ASF chief executive Osman Mewett said industry groups around the world had become aware of unsolicited seeds turning up in mailboxes, but it was not clear where they had come from or why.
“I’m very curious as to the motive behind it, because neither here nor in any of the overseas reports has anyone been able to explain why this is happening, where they are coming from,” Mr Mewett said.
“There are a few conspiracy theories out there, but I really haven’t seen anything concrete as to why this would be happening.
Mr Mewett said it was reasonable to suggest that illegally imported seeds, that were not subject to Australia’s biosecurity protocols, could lead to billions of dollars in damage to the Australian environment and farm and gardening sectors.
“The unsolicited seeds may not have gone through any of the checks and balances that legally imported seed goes through,” he said.
“So there’s a real risk that if they are planted, or if they are thrown in the bin and end up in the tip then they could introduce weed species or diseases to Australia that we don’t currently have.”
Silver foil packaging with white labels
Mr Mewett had not seen the illegally imported seeds but said based on “anecdotal evidence, they seem to be in silver foil packaging with white labels, from various countries of origin”.
He encouraged anyone with unidentified seeds that had arrived by post to report them to authorities.
Head of the Government’s Biosecurity Operations, Emily Canning, said seeds intercepted by border officials would typically be returned to sender or destroyed.
“Imported seeds that do not meet biosecurity conditions can threaten our environment, agricultural industries and even backyard gardens,” Ms Canning said.
Last year, the Australian Government estimated that biosecurity services underpinned $60 billion of farm production, $49 billion of agricultural exports, and $42 billion of inbound tourism.
In December it boosted airport and mail security services, but earlier this year the Federal Government axed plans to raise $325 million through a levy on shipping containers.
Anyone who receives unsolicited seeds in the mail is asked to report it the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment on 1800 798 636.