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May 19, 2012

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Watermelons safe to eat, officials say

WATERMELONS sold at the city are safe to eat, Shanghai's agricultural authorities said yesterday in response to online accusations that Chinese growers improperly injected the fruit with food additives.

Authorities conducted an emergency inspection of local fruit markets yesterday and didn't find any watermelons that had been injected with sodium cyclamate, a banned artificial sweetener, or cochineal extract, a food coloring, to make them seem to ripen sooner. Neither additive may be injected into fruit.

A Beijing-registered Internet user, identified as wangqiang-99, said on a microblog on Wednesday that he learned from a friend in Beijing that it's a common practice among watermelon growers to inject the additives into watermelons.

"Watermelon farmers never eat the fruit themselves because they know the fruits had been injected, and watermelon injected with the additive will be more 'juicy,' " the commenter said. The accusations spread online, upsetting consumers.

Sodium cyclamate has been shown in tests to have negative effects on child development and cause possible liver damage.

Fan Hongwei, director of the Shanghai Fruit Association, said white or yellow strips or round lumps on watermelons are formed naturally during the fruit's growth and are not caused by additives.

Weather conditions, less watering or overuse of fertilizer can lead to lumps, said Fan.


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