Exploding Melon Mishap in China

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Watermelons should be bursting with flavor, but some watermelons in China are just plain bursting.

Overuse of the growth stimulating chemical, forchlorfenuron, during wet weather caused about 115 acres of watermelons to explode right on the vine. The melon mishap has affected about 20 farmers near Danyang in Jiangsu province in eastern China, according to China Central Television.

“On May 7, I came out and counted 80 [burst watermelons] but by the afternoon it was 100,” farmer Liu Mingsuo Liu told CCTV. “Two days later I didn’t bother to count anymore.”

Liu ended up losing about eight acres of fractured fruit.

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The explosion of melons in the field seems to be related to an explosion of melon prices in the market. High prices encouraged many farmers to grow crops of watermelons for the first time. These inexperienced farmers overused the growth chemical at the wrong time and with the wrong variety of melon.

“If it had been used on very young fruit, it wouldn’t be a problem,” Wang Liangju, a professor with College of Horticulture at Nanjing Agricultural University told the Associated Press in an interview. “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.”

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Even the melons that kept it together showed evidence of growth stimulator use. Melons sold in a whole sale market near Shanghai were misshapen, fibrous and had mostly white seeds, all sure signs of forchlorfenuron.

A professor at China Agricultural University, Feng Shuangqing, told CCTV that the misuse of forchlorfenuron showed that China needs to clarify its farm chemical standards and supervision to protect consumer health.

In an effort to salvage at least something from their mishap, many farmers are now feeding the messed-up melons to fish and pigs.

IMAGE: A watermelon delivery man in China (Wikimedia Commons).

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