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Recently, there have been strange cases of exploding watermelons in eastern China after farmers injected an overdose of growth chemicals during wet weather in order to make them bigger and more profitable. The farmers injected their watermelons with forchlorfenuron, a cytokine which improves the fruit size, cluster weight and cold storage in grapes and kiwifruits.

In total, 20 farmers and their produce were affected by the substance, losing about 115 acres of watermelons.

Professor Wang Liangju who works at the College of Horticulture at Nanjing Agricultural University and was in the Danyang province when the phenomenon started, believes that forchlorfenuron is safe for use if being used properly. In an interview with The Associated Press he said that the problem occurred because the substance has been used late in the season when heavy rain was falling down, increasing the risk of the fruit exploding. According to professor Liangju, “If it had been used on very young fruit, it wouldn’t be a problem. 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.

The Chinese law doesn’t forbid the use of forchlorfenuron, and the substance is also allowed in the USA for use on kiwi and grapes. However, there are reports that many Chinese farmers are abusing illegal and legal chemicals, with many of the farms improperly using fertilizers and pesticides.

Is forchlorfenuron safe?

According to the EPA fact sheet, forchlorfenuron is not exactly safe. The fact sheet says:

  • Forchlorfenuron is moderately toxic to freshwater fish;
  • It’s slightly more toxic to the avian population;
  • Is responsible for increased pup mortality and decreased litter size in rats.

How to tell if your fruit has been grown with hormones and pesticides

The US Department of Agriculture tested 3015 produce samples in 2013, and found that two-thirds of them contained pesticide residues. These fruit and vegetables tested higher on the pesticide residue test:

Apples

Peaches

Nectarines

Potatoes

Grapes

Cherry tomatoes

Snap peas

Strawberries

On the other hand, the produce that contained almost no pesticide residues included avocados, sweet corn, kiwi, papayas, pineapples, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, cantaloupe, asparagus, mangos, etc.

The lack of flavor is almost a sure sign that your produce was not organically grown. Forchlorfenuron makes the fruit grow bigger, but it also eliminates its flavor. Sadly, this substance is not the only growth hormone used on fruit and vegetables – farmers often use oxytocin, a growth hormone which is banned in India, yet still largely used on the produce coming from this country.

Ethylene is also used on some produce. This dangerous substance may contain traces of arsenic and calcium carbide, substances that can be quite harmful to your health.

In order to reduce your exposure to pesticides, you need to buy organic food grown locally. If you are unable to do that, you can at least try to reduce the contamination by washing your produce in vinegar and peeling it if needed.