Watermelon is excellent refreshing fruit! But are all types safe for consumption?
In eastern China watermelons have been bursting open, covering the fields after farmers gave them an overdose of growth chemicals during wet weather, creating what’s been called “fields of land mines.”
The farmers used a growth accelerator known as forchlorfenuron in hopes of making their watermelons bigger and thus more profitable.
About 20 farmers around Danyang city in Jiangsu province were affected. They lost up to 115 acres of watermelons.
What is Forchlorfenuron?
According to the U.S. EPA, “Forchlorfenuron is a cytokin which improves fruit set, fruit size, cluster weight and cold storage in grapes in kiwifruits.”
Wang Liangju, a professor with the College of Horticulture at Nanjing Agricultural University who was in Danyang when the problems began to occur, believes the chemical is safe when used properly. He told The Associated Press that the use of drug was too late in the season when heavy rain activity raised the risk of the fruit exploding. He also believes the variety of melon played a role. “If we use it on very young fruit, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Wang said. He added, “Another reason [for the problem] is that the melon they were planting is a thin-rind variety and these kind are actually nicknamed the ‘exploding melon’ because they tend to split,” he said.
Chinese regulations don’t forbid the use of the drug. They allow it in the USA on grapes and kiwi fruit. But there were a lot of reports that many farmers in China are abusing both legal and illegal chemicals, with many farms misusing fertilizers and pesticides.
Is It Safe?
According to an EPA pesticide fact sheet, forchlorfenuron is not necessarily harmless. It reports:
- Moderate toxicity to freshwater fish
- Slightly higher toxicity levels in the avian population
- Increased pup mortality and decreased litter sizes in rat studies
How to Tell if the Watermelon or Any Other Fruit Was Grown With Pesticides or Hormones
According to the Environmental Working Group, nearly two-thirds of the 3,015 produce samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 contained pesticide residues, with a total of 165 different pesticides on thousands of vegetable and fruit samples.
Watermelons that grow with hormones will display cracks on the inside. This is a sign that the watermelon grew faster than it was actually supposed to.
The produce that with highest test for pesticide residues included:
The produce least likely to contain pesticide residue included:
Frozen sweet peas
The lack of flavor is one sign that a fruit or vegetable doesn’t grow completely naturally. While growth enhancers such as florchlorfenuron stimulate cell division to make the product grow faster, it also drains it of flavor.
Florchlorfenuron isn’t the only growth hormone that people use in produce. Oxytocin is a hormone that people use in vegetables and fruits in India. There is a ban of this drug for public sale in India, but it is widely available from pesticide and fertilizer vendors.
Other growth promoting agents used in produce include ethylene, which may contain traces of arsenic, and calcium carbide. It can cause a whole slew of health problems.
To reduce your exposure to chemicals and pesticides. Buy organic foods that contain the highest levels of pesticides. Whether what you purchase is conventional or organic, you should still take steps to reduce contamination. That is by washing the produce thoroughly and peeling it as well.
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