HALF-NAKED revellers pelted each other with tomatoes and bathed in red goo yesterday in Spain’s Tomatina, a fiesta that draws thousands each year for “the world’s biggest food fight”.

Locals and visitors from as far afield as the US and Japan crammed into the eastern town of Buñol as mushy tomatoes rained from the backs of trucks and flew in every direction in a world-famous orgy of pulp.

“It was pretty fun, squashing and throwing them. It was raining tomatoes,”said Jessica Sims, a 27-year-old airline employee from the state of Utah, stepping back from the fray, her white T-shirt soaked and stained red.“It was a bit scary and dangerous.”

One of Spain’s quirkiest and best-known tourist draws, the Tomatina was stained this year by a row over its privatisation.

Mindful of safety and money, the indebted local authorities last year began charging revellers an entry fee and hired a private company, Spaintastic, to sell tickets.

The town hall said it had to improve safety at the wild festival, which before the privatisation drew about 40 000 revellers to the town, quadrupling its population. Places are now limited to 22 000.

“In the past few years the essence of the Tomatina had been lost. There was no space and it was quite dangerous,” Buñol’s deputy mayor Rafael Perez said. “Now it is much more enjoyable.”

Revellers glugged pint cups of beer and sangria until a string of trucks loaded with 125 tons of tomatoes rolled through Buñol’s narrow streets and teams on board hurled the squishy load on to the heads of those in the street.

The iconic food fight has been a draw for foreigners, in particular from Australia, Britain, Japan and the US.

Locals try to protect shops and houses by covering them with great blue tarpaulins to avoid a splattering. – Sapa-AFP