Monday 19 February 2018

Watermelons explode like landmines

A farmer holds two exploded watermelons in Zhenjiang city, Jiangsu province (AP)
A farmer holds two exploded watermelons in Zhenjiang city, Jiangsu province (AP)

Fields of watermelons have been exploding like landmines in China after farmers gave them overdoses of growth chemicals during wet weather.

About 20 farmers around Danyang city in Jiangsu province were affected, losing up to 115 acres of melons.

Prices over the past year prompted many farmers to jump into the watermelon market. All of those with exploding melons apparently were first-time users of the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, although it has been widely available for some time, said China Central Television.

The farmers used it during a very wet period and put it on too late in the season, causing the melons to burst, said agricultural experts.

Chinese regulations do not forbid the drug, which is also allowed in the United States on kiwi fruit and grapes. But the report highlights how farmers in China are abusing both legal and illegal chemicals, with many farms misusing pesticides and fertilisers.

Farmer Liu Mingsuo ended up with eight acres of ruined fruit and said seeing his crop splitting open was like a knife cutting his heart.

"On May 7, I came out and counted 80 but by the afternoon it was 100," he said. "Two days later I didn't bother to count anymore."

Intact watermelons were being sold at a wholesale market in nearby Shanghai but even those showed tell-tale signs of forchlorfenuron use: fibrous, misshapen fruit with mostly white instead of black seeds.

The government has warned against the widespread overuse of food additives such as dyes and sweeteners which retailers hope will make food more attractive and boost sales.

Although Chinese media remain under strict government control, domestic coverage of food safety scandals has become more aggressive in recent months, an apparent sign that the government has realised it needs help policing the troubled food industry.

Press Association

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