Watermelon fields in eastern China are covered in exploded fruit. Farmers used growth chemicals to make their crops bigger, but ended up destroying them instead.
The farmers used the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron. Even the melons that survived tended to have fibrous, misshapen fruit with mostly white instead of black seeds.
“Chinese regulations don’t forbid use of the substance. It is also allowed in the United States for use on kiwi fruit and grapes … About 20 farmers and 115 acres of watermelon around Danyang were affected … Farmers resorted to chopping up the fruit and feeding it to fish and pigs”.
This may sound like a joke, but it’s real alright. Seems the use of a chemical growth accelerator, forchlorfenuron, has been implicated in the widespread “exploding melon” phenomena.
What is Forchlorfenuron?
Forchlorfenuron is a so-called “plant growth regulator,” registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2004 for use on grapes, raisins, and kiwis. According to the EPA Pesticide Fact sheet, the chemical is to be applied to the flowers and/or developing fruit during early post-bloom to improve fruit size, fruit set, cluster weight, and cold storage. The fact sheet explains that the chemical “acts synergistically with natural auxins to promote plant cell division and lateral growth.”
According to MSNBC, the Chinese farmers incorrectly applied forchlorfenuron to the fruit “during overly wet weather and… too late in the season, which made the melons burst.”
Indeed. Melons have been exploding by the acre.
Another article published on May 24 by The Epoch Times, specified that the seeds used were “quality watermelon seeds” imported from Japan. Of the 20 farmers in the affected Chinese province, 10 of them used these imported Japanese seeds. It’s unclear whether all of the farmers whose crops blew up had also used forchlorfenuron.
But ruptured melon-heads are not the most concerning aspect of this story. There’s also the question of consumer safety. Although no specific health hazards are mentioned in any of the articles covering this story, they do allude to the fact that there may be cause for health concerns.
Are Growth Promoting Chemicals Safe to Eat?
“The report quoted Feng Shuangqing, a professor at the China Agricultural University, as saying the problem showed that China needs to clarify its farm chemical standards and supervision to protect consumer health. the report underscores how farmers in China are abusing both legal and illegal chemicals, with many farms misusing pesticides and fertilizers.”
Forchlorfenuron is in fact legal, both in China and in the US. But should it be? According to the EPA pesticide fact sheet, forchlorfenuron is not necessarily harmless, neither to the environment nor to animals and potentially humans. Side effects revealed in animal studies included:
- Increased incidence of alopecia (hair loss)
- Decreased birth weight
- Increased pup mortality
- Decreased litter sizes
They also categorize forchlorfenuron as “moderately toxic to freshwater fish on an acute basis.”
How to Spot Fruit Grown with Growth Accelerating Chemicals
One of the tell-tale signs of a fruit or vegetable that hasn’t been grown by entirely natural means is their inherent lack of flavor. It may look plump and ripe, but once you bite into it, it’s anything but a flavor sensation. This is because while growth enhancers like forchlorfenuron stimulate cell division, making the fruit grow faster, it also drains it of flavor. This is actually rather logical, if you think about it. Flavor is a sign of ripeness, which only comes with time. Many unripe fruits and vegetables are virtually tasteless.
In the case of watermelons, those treated with forchlorfenuron are very large and brightly colored on the outside, but the color of the flesh is more white than deep red. Other telltale signs are white instead of black seeds and fibrous, and/or misshapen fruit. (Note, this is for regular watermelons, which have black seeds. Seedless watermelons typically have tiny white seeds.)
Hormones in Your Fruits and Veggies? You Bet!
This is an area that doesn’t get much press. While many are now aware of the fact that CAFO raised meats are loaded with hormones, few would imagine that fresh produce would be laced with hormone additives as well. But they are. According to Zheng Fengtian, a professor of agriculture from Renmin University, hormones can increase yields by 20 percent or more, and are therefore “widely used.”
Some of these hormones you might never expect to make their way onto your plate, such as oxytocin—a hormone that acts as a neuromodulator in your brain; often referred to as “the love hormone,” or “bonding hormone.” It’s released naturally in large amounts in a woman’s body during childbirth, but has also been synthesized biochemically and is available as a prescription drug to induce labor—and is, apparently, being illegally injected into fruits and vegetables in some countries…
Last summer, an Indian health minister, Dinesh Trivedi, warned about the illegal use of oxytocin in fruits and vegetables in India. Apparently the hormone allows produce to gain weight and ripen sooner. Injected produce also appear plumper and fresher.
According to Trivedi, the hormone is being used on:
FoodSafety.com also reported that the drug, although banned for public sale in India, was widely available from fertilizer and pesticide vendors. Potential side effects of consuming oxytocin-laced produce include:
|Stomach pain||Sterility||Neurotic complications||Nervous breakdowns|
Other Growth Promoters Used on Produce
Other growth promoting agents used in fruits and vegetables include:
While ethylene is considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe), calcium carbide “may contain traces of arsenic and phosphorus, both highly toxic to humans,” according to one industry source, and most countries do not allow its use.
Interestingly enough, one of the Chinese farmers whose melons exploded reportedly used a formula containing a mixture of growth enhancers, sweetening agents, and “a calcium solution.” So it’s not clear whether the formula used on the exploding fruits contained calcium carbide in conjunction with the forchlorfenuron. Whatever the case may be, the results are clearly not good.
Still on the Fence about Going Organic?
If you’re still vacillating on the issue of going organic, I hope this information spurs you into action.
If you eat conventionally grown produce, not only are you exposing yourself and your family to a variety of pesticides; you may also get hormones and chemical growth promoters—all of which have the potential to devastate your health, especially that of young children. Remember, conventional produce sold in your local supermarket comes from all over the world! So you cannot brush off this information as being a potential threat affecting just the region in which the produce was grown.
Organic foods also contain higher amounts of nutrients, so you’re getting “more bang for your buck,” when seen from a nutrition standpoint. One four-year long European-Union-funded study found that:
- Organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 percent more antioxidants
- Organic produce had higher levels of beneficial minerals like iron and zinc
- Milk from organic herds contained up to 90 percent more antioxidants
Last but not least, if you’re any kind of food aficionado, meaning if you like flavor, organic foods simply cannot be beat. When it comes to produce, your absolute best bet is locally-grown organics. That’s truly the best of both worlds. However, if you can’t find locally grown organics, opt for USDA certified organic, but not imported organic, over the conventionally grown variety. Just be aware that wilted organic produce is not going to provide the nutrition that a fresh one will, even if it’s conventionally grown, so freshness is also key.
There are some exceptions to the all-organic rule, which may be welcome news if you cannot afford to buy everything organic. For more information on which conventionally-grown produce are the safest, please see my previous article 12 Foods You Don’t Have to Buy Organic.
Pay Now, or Pay Later…
My personal view of why you’d want an organic lifestyle is that although you may spend more money on organic food today, your payoff of good health should more than make up for it – and reduce your health care costs in the future. It makes sense to me to invest a little bit more now so I can avoid paying LARGE medical bills later on, but more importantly, I can avoid the physical and mental disability and dysfunction that inevitably follows from a careless, unhealthy lifestyle.
Making sure you’re not being misled by labels in your search for a healthier lifestyle is unfortunately part of this process. However, by educating yourself about what to look for, talking to your grocer, and sharing information with family, friends and neighbors, you can help the movement toward healthier food choices.