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Watermelons Exploding On Farms In China

BEJING, China ~ (CCTV/AP) ~ Farmers in eastern China are having a hazardous time as watermelons have been bursting in the fields due to  growth accelerating chemicals applied in wet weather.

Around twenty farmers were affected near the city of Danyang, in the Jiangsu province, losing about 115 acres (45 hectares) of watermelons, according to a China Central Television investigative report. One broadcaster described the melons as "land mines" and said they were exploding by the acre in the Danyang area. An increase in prices over the last year steered several farmers to jump in to the melon market. Growers with the exploding melons were apparently first-time users of the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, even though it has been widely available for some time.

Chinese regulations don't forbid the chemical, and in the United States it's allowed for use on kiwi fruit and grapes. CCTV's report centered on how farmers were abusing both legal and illegal additives, with many misusing pesticides and fertilizers. Wang Liangju, a professor with College of Horticulture at Nanjing Agricultural University, has been to Danyang since the problems began to occur and said that forchlorfenuron is safe and effective when used properly. Wang told the Associated Press that the chemical had been used too late in the season and also heavy rains raised the risk of melons cracking open.

Wang also said the variety of melon played a role, saying, "if it had been used on very young fruit, it wouldn't be a problem," he said, "another reason 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." Intact fruit was being sold at a nearby market in Shangahi, but even those showed signs of forchlorfenuron use; fibrous, misshapen melons with mostly white instead of black seeds. 

In March of last year, Chinese authorities found that "yard-long beans" from the southern city of Sanya had been treated with isocarbophos, a banned pesticide. Tainted beans showed up in several provinces, and the city of Wuban destroyed 3˝ tons of the vegetables. The government has also voiced concern over the widespread overuse of food additives like dyes and sweeteners, which are used by retailers to make food more attractive and increase sales.

Photo credit: Associated Press

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