Vegetables ripened too soon pose health risk

14:16, July 18, 2011      

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VEGETABLES ripened by using plant growth stimulators are being widely sold in wet markets across China, and there is no national testing system in place to regulate the practice.

Such vegetables look attractive but don't taste good because they have been ripened artificially, according to a Xinhua news agency investigation.

In several provinces, Xinhua found that most growers used Ethrel, a type of plant growth stimulator, to promote ripening in vegetables. The vegetables matured quickly after being dipped in the liquid.

Customers at the Furong wet market in Hefei, capital of Anhui Province, said tomatoes with glowing red skins were found to have green seeds, while cucumbers with yellow flowers tasted "weird and unnatural."

"I was stunned and puzzled," said a customer surnamed Xu.

All the vegetables were most likely overdosed with Ethrel, Xinhua agency said. The practice is most common in tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons as a way to attract customers and boost profits.

Industry insiders said Ethrel is cheap and easily available. Using it on cucumbers causes output to rise from 37,500 kilograms to 60,000 kilograms per hectare, according to a grower surnamed Huang from Jiangsu Province.

Vegetables treated with Ethrel could also reach the market much earlier and thus command higher prices.

They also stay fresh for at least five days compared to naturally grown ones which tend to have a market life of just two days.

A Xinhua reporter found that many growers used Ethrel according to their experience rather than referring to scientific standards.

"If you want vegetables to grow faster, add more Ethrel," said one grower.

However, experts warned that vegetables that have been treated with large doses may harm people's health.

According to the national standard of pesticide residue on vegetables, residues of Ethrel on tomatoes should be no more than 2 milligrams per kilogram.

The standard is currently applied to tomatoes, tropical and sub-tropical fruit and cotton seeds, but many other vegetables are also being treated with the growth hormone.

"There should be a sound set of regulations and standard on the use of plant growth regulators," Xinhua quoted an expert as saying.

Plant growth regulators are usually allowed for use in vegetables to avoid the effects of freezing weather, a necessity to guarantee a supply of vegetables to wet markets throughout the year.

But there is a lack of regulations and standards to keep their use under control, Xinhua said.

An official from the Shanghai Agricultural Commission said the city is currently drafting its own regulations.

Recent food safety checks by the commission showed that all the plant growth stimulators in use were qualified.

Source: Shanghai Daily
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