Fortified Health Club: Small Changes Make Big Impacts

What are Those Stickers on my Produce?

What if there was a secret code to tell if your supermarket produce is genetically modified, altered or engineered (also known as FAKE!)?

U.S. regulations do not require that genetically modified ingredients or produce be labeled, but many health-oriented websites claim they’ve uncovered the secret.

The question is ..

.. is there any stock to this theory?

You had to have seen them; you know, those stickers on the produce you buy at the grocery store? Do you ever wonder what it is? Is it just a barcode for the price when you're checking out? Those little things can be pretty annoying when all you want is to sink your teeth into a fresh apple, but on each sticker is a code known as the price look-up number (or PLU).

And that number is (supposedly) the key to knowing whether the produce was conventionally raised or genetically modified.

A lot of health websites claim that if the PLU # is a five-digit number, and if that number starts with an eight, then that produce is genetically modified, meaning you should avoid it.

However, sources also claim that if the five-digit number begins with a nine, then it’s Organic, and it’s good to go.

Critics of the theory say that the numbers are really only meant for retailers, and they don’t hold any significance to customers. So, can a product’s PLU # code really reveal whether it’s genetically modified or organic?

This is a pretty heavy debate, and you can find a lot of conflicting information online. Both sides of the story have convincing arguments citing a lot of data, but here are the facts:

• The codes on produce are real, and the intent behind their meaning is correct—in theory.
• Five-digit PLU codes beginning with eight really are supposed to mean that a product is genetically modified, and numbers beginning with nine are supposed to be organic.
• The International Federation for Produce Standards published a very lengthy paper teaching farmers how to label their own produce with PLU stickers, so that retailers can charge correctly for each item. The number options are zero, eight, and nine. The original intent was for an eight to represent a GMO product.

The reason for last bullet point is simple. Money.

When GMOs first arrived on the scene, it was anticipated that GMO products would be highly sought-after for their convenience.

Let me explain.

Think about watermelon. When watermelons became seedless, everybody liked it. Think of the convenience, not having to pick out the seeds, etc. Manufacturers assumed the same would apply to more drastic modifications to food.

That PLU code was meant to tell retailers they could charge more because the product was GMO. In other words, the original intent was for GMO produce to be more expensive, because they were more convenient.

Did you hear that?

Well, instead, things went backwards. As we now know, GMOs never attained the popularity that manufacturers hoped, and consumers like myself started pushing back against genetically modified products.

And people certainly don’t want to pay more for it. Retailers now charge more for Organic produce.

Think about that for a minute.

We actually pay extra for people to do less to our food. But that’s beside the point…

So, have we cracked the secret code?

Well, not exactly.

Here’s the problem. This isn’t a regulated system.

Farmers and manufacturers aren’t required to use the PLU code guidelines. The guidelines are really just a suggestion to help out the retailers. That means the nine that represents Organic is wildly overused, due to the fact that you can charge more for it—which people do.

In the same way, even though the eight is supposed to mean GMO, no one is going to use it, and they don’t have to.

So where does that leave us, as consumers?

The bottom line is, don’t assume a nine means you’re eating Organic, and certainly don’t assume you’re in the clear just because the code doesn’t start with an eight.

To avoid GMOs, two simple ways will work (for now):

• The best way, for now, is to buy Organic. Part of the standard for USDA Organic certification is that the product must be non-GMO.
• Buy directly from the Non-GMO Project, where items go through rigorous standards by the non-GMO community to get verified and certified. These items, you can trust.

Long story short, don't bank on the PLU # on that apple to tell you that the food you're eating is clean and safe.

Do your research and remember that knowledge is power.

And lastly, vote with your dollars. Buy Organic.