Watermelon fields in eastern China are a mess of burst fruit after farmers used growth chemicals in an attempt to make extra money but ended up ruining their crops, state media reported Tuesday.
An investigative report by China Central Television found farms in and around Danyang city in Jiangsu province were losing acres of fruit to the problem.
The farmers sprayed forchlorfenuron, a growth accelerator, during overly wet weather and put it on too late in the season, which made the melons burst, CCTV said, citing agricultural experts.
It said most watermelons sold at a wholesale market in nearby Shanghai were believed to have been treated with forchlorfenuron. Telltale signs are fibrous, misshapen fruit with mostly white instead of black seeds, it said.
Chinese regulations don't forbid use of the substance. It is also allowed in the United States for use on kiwi fruit and grapes.
But the report underscores how farmers in China are abusing both legal and illegal chemicals, with many farms misusing pesticides and fertilizers.
The government has already voiced alarm over the widespread overuse of food additives like dyes and sweeteners that retailers hope will make food more attractive and boost sales.
The CCTV report colorfully described the watermelons as "land mines" and said they were exploding by the acre.
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.
Danyang farmer Liu Mingsuo ended up with eight acres of ruined fruit and told CCTV he couldn't sleep because he kept picturing exploding watermelons.
"On May 7, I came out and counted 80 (bursting watermelons) but by the afternoon it was 100," Liu said. "Two days later I didn't bother to count anymore."
About 20 farmers and 115 acres of watermelon around Danyang were affected, it said. Farmers resorted to chopping up the fruit and feeding it to fish and pigs, the broadcaster said.