Screen shot 2011-05-17 at 5.02.47 PM.pngExploding watermelons caused by the application of forchlorfenuron, a growth accelerator, hit the Chinese and international press today. Chinese media, apparently encouraged by the government (for now anyway), has been exposing the lax farming practices, shortcuts and excessive use of fertilizer behind a rash of food safety scandals. The exploding melons, follows discoveries of the heavy metal cadmium in rice, toxic melamine in milk, arsenic in soy sauce, bleach in mushrooms, and the detergent borax in pork, added to make it resemble beef.

According to news reports, farmers claim forchlorfenuron can bring the harvest forward by two weeks and increase the size and price of the fruit by more than 20%. Agricultural experts say forchlorfenuron has been widely used in China since the 1980s. “In general we don’t suggest chemicals with plant hormones be used on watermelons, as they are very sensitive. They might end up looking very strange and people will not want to buy them,” said Cui Jian, director of the vegetable research institute at Qingdao Academy of Agricultural Science. “The taste won’t be as good and storage is more difficult, but it should not harm anyone’s health.”

Environment groups say the overuse of agricultural chemicals is a problem that goes beyond growth stimulants. Pan Jing of Greenpeace said farmers depended on fertilizers because many doubled as migrant workers and had less time for their crops. This dependency was promoted by state subsidies keeping fertilizers cheap. “The government is aware of the environmental problems caused by chemical fertilizer, but they are alsoconcerned about food output.”

Many farmers grow their own food separately from the chemically-raised crops they sell. “I feel there is nothing safe I can eat now because people are in too much of a hurry to make money,” said Huang Zhanliang, a farmer in Hebei.

The fact that farms do not eat what they sell says it all.

  • dangermaus

    Ha! China actually forcing profitable businesses to change their practices in a way that would actually make a difference to the consumer? At what exotic, parallel dimension is this call for reform aimed?

  • Harry Wang

    I guess there will be more food safety scandals in the future in China. It is not an easy task for the people and the government in China to change the current situation. But I also realize there are many farmers who would rather loosing profit than using dangerous agricultural chemicals. I see many farmers in my hometown Shandong trying their best to produce safer vegetable and fruit. The central governmen also realize the importance of food safety and is working on it. It takes time. Though it is really necessary for us to think why it is so hard to prevent food safety accidents from breaking out.

  • Sad

    To represent the food safety victims in China can be a very dangerous thing. You can see how the lawyers who represented the melamine victims were treated. Because of the Beijing Olympic Games, the Chinese regime covered up the melamine case for at least half a year before making it public as it was afraid the Games would be affected. Food safety can be a political issue to the Chinese Communist Party. I doubt that China can deal food safety effectively with such a party in power. The lawyers cannot represent the victims. The reporters cannot report the tragedy. The government covers food safety issue. No ones can blame all these on the regime without bearing a consequence. People are not taught the consequence of food safety abuse…