The Chinese have developed a taste for watermelon, which is a popular summer treat there just as it is here. Some Chinese farmers have used a fertilizer that contained a chemical called forchlorfenuron. At first, this seemed like a good idea, for the fertilizer produced watermelons that were 20 percent bigger than usual. It also made the melons grow faster.
Unfortunately, it proved to be too much of a good thing, for the ultra-fast growth caused some of the melons to crack in half. In some cases, the watermelons burst open. Some people described the oversize melons as “exploding”. The farmers also noted that the king-sized melons had an unusually high number of white seeds when they ought to have had black seeds. The texture and taste also differed from the norm. The watermelons were also misshapen. Forchlorfenuron has been used in fertilizers since the 1980s and is generally considered safe. Cui Jian, the Director of the Vegetable Research Institute at the Qingdao Academy of Agricultural Science, disagrees with that assessment. He says that since watermelons are especially sensitive to chemicals, it is best to avoid using plant hormone chemicals on them.
The United States uses forchlorfenuron-based fertilizers to grow kiwifruit and grapes. Although the chemical is not carcinogenic, the EPA states it should be used only on plants during the early stages of their growth. The EPA also reports that forchlorfenuron is toxic to animals. Studies have linked it to increased hair loss, decreased litter sizes, reduced birth weight, and increased mortality in young animals.