Watermelon is the most favorite fruit of almost everyone, especially during the hot summer days. People enjoy it while it’s cooled down a bit, prepare a fresh fruit salad, some smoothie etc. But, have you ever thought at what cost are these gigantic watermelons being produced? Recent news has shown that the drive to make the fruit bigger and more profitable has had an unexpected effect in China: exploding watermelon!
It all started when one farmer has noticed that some of his fruit had cracked in half out in the fields. Before long, hundreds of acres of melon had been lost to this mysterious phenomenon. The terrifying truth was that these melons weren’t exploding on their own. 19 of the 20 farmers affected insisted they didn’t use chemicals in their field, but one popular fertilizer was found to be the culprit.
They’ve all used forchlorfenuron. It is a chemical used to make melons up to 20% bigger and bring harvest forward by two weeks, ensuring a more significant profit for farmers. The worst thing of all is that watermelons that are treated with this chemical are usually less flavorful, more misshapen and filled with white seeds instead of black ones. This chemical didn’t caused the “explosion”, but heavy rain and poor timing contributed to the strange reaction.
Is Forchlorfenuron Safe?
According to numerous experts, this chemical has been used in China since the 1980s and is generally considered to be “safe”. Cui Jian, director of the vegetable research institute at Qingdao Academy of Agricultural Science claimed:
“Well, in general we don’t suggest chemicals with plant hormones be used on watermelons, as they are very sensitive. And you should know that they might end up looking very strange and people will not want to buy them. The taste won’t be as good and storage is more difficult, but it should not harm anyone’s health.”
Note: According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), it’s not like that. The fertilizer is also used in the United States and elsewhere to increase the size of grapes and kiwis, but it’s actually cytotoxic. According to numerous different animal studies, this chemical can cause acute oral, dermal and respiratory toxicity as well as kidney inflammation. It’s not considered to be a carcinogenic, but this fertilizer can still cause reproductive toxicity, stomach lesions and increased fetal mortality.
These chemicals are leeching into the environment and affecting both fauna and flora all around the world. So, you probably ask yourself, if these fertilizers have such a devastating health and environmental cost, why are they still being allowed? The Chinese population is exceeding 1 billion people and the Chinese agricultural industry is relying on international exports, so it’s no surprise that the government is doing all it can to increase food production, even if it means long-term side-effects.
Pan Jing of Greenpeace says:
“The government is aware of the environmental problems caused by chemical fertilizer, but they are also concerned about food output.”
How to Protect Yourself
The best way for you to keep harmful chemicals out of your food is buying local organic products or growing your own food or you can just try to avoid Chinese products, which have been criticized internationally on multiple occasions for fake products and even illegal use of toxic pesticides.
Note: If you can’t afford organic all the time, here are some of the safest and most dangerous non-organic foods. The dirty dozen is usually filled with pesticides and herbicides, so they should always be organic while the clean 15 just need a good vinegar rinse, as well as a good scrub to be eaten safely.
- Bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Snap peas
- Sweet peas
- Sweet Potatoes