Improper Chemical Use Causes Exploding Chinese Watermelons

Improper chemical use causes exploding chinese watermelons

No, it’s not Gallagher’s watermelon smashing comeback act. Nearly two-dozen Chinese farmers are reporting cases of “exploding” watermelons.

The melons are not intentionally rigged with explosive devices—they’re the result of overdoses of growth chemicals used by farmers. The chemical, forchlorfenuron, is not a new product, but was apparently new to these farmers in eastern China’s Danyang city in Jiangsu province who lost over 100 acres of the melons, causing devastating financial losses for the farmers.

In Shanghai, not too far from Danyang, watermelons available at local markets also showed symptoms of excessive forchlorfenuron exposure such as misshaped fruits with an abnormal number of white seeds instead of black seeds.

The forchlorfenuron had been applied too late in the melons’ growth cycle, and some of it was applied during the wet season, which can also trigger melons to break open. Forgoing the chemical during that time means the incidence of explosion would have been less, according to a regional horticulturist from the Nanjing Agricultural University who has been closely monitoring the situation. Professor Wang Liangju told the Associated Press that the chemical is safe when used appropriately, but, it’s  heavily regulated in the U.S.—only permitted on grapes and kiwis.

This isn’t the first incident of Chinese farmers who are abusing chemicals (both legal and illegal). The misuse of pesticides and fertilizers is widespread throughout the country. Last year, traces of a banned pesticide, isocarbophos, was found in beans grown in several provinces leading to nearly 4 tons being destroyed. Additional misuse of artificial colors and sweeteners are also widespread.

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Photo: Gallagher

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.