The Watermelon You Should Never, Ever Eat

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.

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.

Package of 100 Seeds, Sugar Baby Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) Non-GMO Seeds by Seed Needs

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?

MSNBC writes: “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.)

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