Mysterious packets of seeds have sparked biosecurity fears after being sent to Australian addresses from overseas.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment said 46 packages containing unidentified seeds had arrived on Australian shores in the past five weeks.
While the majority of the packages are sent from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, the seeds’ exact source is still unknown and agricultural groups have warned they could pose a serious risk to Australia’s farming sector.
The federal government has launched an investigation into the seed packages to find out where they came from and their variety.
‘The unsolicited seeds may not have gone through any of the checks and balances that legally imported seed goes through,’ Australian Seed Federation chief executive Osman Mewett told ABC News.
He warned recipients not to plant seeds from unknown senders as they could prompt an ecological disaster if introduced to the Australian ecosystem.
‘There’s a real risk 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,’ he said.
He added the unsolicited seeds could potentially cause billions of dollars in damage to Australian industry.
The federal government estimated earlier this year biosecurity underpins $60billion in agricultural production, $49billion in agricultural exports and $42billion in inbound tourism.
Unsolicited seeds have also turned up in both Europe and the US, with those who receive the packages asked to send them straight to the government for testing.
Authorities are yet to prove why the packages are being sent but the Australian government said unsolicited seeds are often tied to a ‘brushing’ scam.
‘Seeds are often sent in the mail as a result of an e-commerce practice called “brushing”,’ a Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment spokesman said.
‘Brushing is used by a vendor to bolster their store’s orders and ratings, to increase their visibility online.
‘Seeds are often used because they are light and cheap to send through the mail.’
An investigation by the US Department of Agriculture found the seeds are often harmless varieties used to grow mint, sage, rosemary and lavender.