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May 21, 2011

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Plant growth chemical probe begins

AN investigation into the use of chemicals that affect plant growth has been launched following concerns about their excessive use.

The Shanghai Agricultural Commission's week-long probe into the use of plant growth regulators began yesterday.

Officials will check licenses and ingredients of regulators, the amount farmers use and whether there is a safe interval between application and the fruit or vegetables going on the market.

Agrotechnical staff will guide farmers on the proper use of regulators.

During a recent spot check of some 180 Shanghai stores that sold agricultural chemicals, 46 plant regulator products were tested. Two substandard products had been withdrawn from the shelves, the commission said.

Experts said farmers are allowed to use regulators registered at the Ministry of Agriculture but excessive use in the pursuit of greater yield could cause abnormal plants.

Plant growth regulators, such as ripening agents, fruit expanders and plant hormones, are usually taken from plants or made from plant materials.

Proper use of regulators can improve fruit quality and output and help fruit resist the cold and protect it from disease, said Zhu Jianhua, deputy director of Shanghai Agrotechnical Service Center.

A report that dozens of hectares of unripe watermelons in Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province, exploded in early May because of improper use of fruit expander raised concerns recently. People worry that chemicals used on fruit will harm their health.

An investigation by the Nanfang Daily said fruit expanders could increase output by 30 percent, which was the main reason why so many farmers liked to use fruit expanders and other growth regulators.

Wang Liangju, an agricultural expert in Guangdong Province, said fruit expanders were safe as long as the amount was controlled. Expander residue could hardly be detected when fruit went onto the market and wouldn't affect people's health because of the passage of time between application and sale.

Cucumbers with unwithered yellow flowers also caught people's attention recently with hormones said to be used in their cultivation.

Plant hormones are also allowed to be used to keep cucumbers fresh, according to Meng Huanwen, a teacher of Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University.

But excessive use will cause problems.

"Farmers don't know the proper amount of the regulators they should use. Fruit with strange shapes, bright colors but bad taste indicate too much regulator has been applied," said Zheng Fengtian, deputy dean of College of Agriculture and Suburban Development of Renmin University of China. "Such fruit can cause sexual prematurity in children."


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