Ripening agents are recently reported to have been used by farmers during plant growth to speed up ripening of fruits and vegetables, allowing them to be ready for sale before the right time. The use of ripening agents has raised public concerns about the safety of fruits and vegetables.
What are ripening agents?
Ripening agents, also known as plant exogenous hormones, are plant growth regulators. They are used to regulate growth of vegetables and fruits, and are important to ensure agricultural production. Plant growth regulators have been widely used in agriculture and forestry in China and other countries. For example, they are used during the growth of crops such as vegetables, fruit trees, cotton plants, tobacco plants, wheat, maize and soybeans. There are various kinds of them, among which ethephon, gibberellic acid and chlormequat are the commonly used ones.
Are plant growth regulators hazardous to human health?
Studies conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) show that plant growth regulators, e.g. ethephon, is low in toxicity and will not be hazardous to human health if they are used in accordance with good agricultural practice. However, if they are misused, crops will grow excessively fast, resulting in ripening on the fruit surface with the core remaining raw, which will adversely affect the palatability and quality of fruits.
Is the use of ripening agents permitted in China and other countries?
Countries and organizations including China, Codex Alimentarius Commission and European Union (EU) have set the maximum residue level for plant growth regulators. Farmers are allowed to use ripening agents during plant growth provided that they comply with the legal application amount, time and method.
Safety tips to the public
Purchase fresh and hygienic food from reliable shops;
Stop consuming “questionable” food if you have doubt regarding its safety;
Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.