Despite USDA warnings, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Americans planted those mystery "innocuous" Chinese seeds sent to addresses in all 50 states, according to Motherboard's Jason Koebler. Some even ate them. What he learned through reading internal documents obtained from state departments of agriculture and the USDA through the Freedom of Information Act is fascinating (and not all that surprising).
Based on documents I've read, the scale of the mystery seed operation was much larger than I had originally suspected and than was originally reported…
…the official line became that this was a "brushing" campaign, in which items of small value are sent to people whose online accounts have been compromised, or are sent to people as a "gift." In order to leave a positive review from a "verified buyer" (which is weighted higher because the person nominally bought and used the product), you need to have actually bought or received an item, so by receiving seeds, reviews from that account or name will be weighted higher.
The "brushing" idea is still what USDA and other agencies are saying, but, at least in the emails I've reviewed there's very little talk about how the scam worked or why it happened…
…One thing is clear to me, from reading these documents. American people do not seem particularly well-prepared for scams of this nature.
The emails between public officials and scientists, who were dealing with a difficult situation, seem efficient, professional, and appropriately cautious. But communication from the general public is concerning. People planted seeds even when expressly told not to. Hundreds of people had no idea whether they had ever ordered seeds, or how to check. Some people called 911. Others ate the seeds. Others ordered something specific, got what they ordered from who they ordered it from, then still panicked. Others were furious they had to pay for postage to send the seeds to the government. From one recipient in North Carolina: "I did not receive seeds. I received a suspicious package from China with a spoon and a fork in it my concerns are that it is full of Covid."