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Fruits in the grocery: grown organically, conventionally or genetically modified? Granny Smith apple with a 4139 PLU Code

A week or so ago on my Facebook wall, there was a post about apples.

Those stickers on fruits and veggies tell you quite a bit! 4 numbers mean they were conventionally grown. 5 numbers starting with number 8 means they are genetically modified (GMO). And 5 numbers starting with 9 means they were organically grown.

Tag n share!

Easy enough to tag and share on Facebook but for a blog post, I prefer to substantiate the information. Who assigns those numbers? How reliable is the labeling?

I did a little Googling and found that the numbers are called international Price Look-Up (PLU) codes and are assigned by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS).

The 4-digit codes are for conventionally grown produce. 5-digit codes are used to identify organic or genetically modified produce. The prefix of ‘8’ would be placed in front of the 4-digit code for genetically modified produce and the prefix of ‘9’ would be placed in front of the 4-digit conventionally grown code for organic produce.

The IFPS is a voluntary organization. Only the produce (fruits and vegetables) of IFPS members will bear those stickers with the PLU-codes. Granny Smith apple with a 4139 PLU Code

What’s the significance to food shoppers like you and me?

1. The price. Organically grown fruits and vegetables are more expensive than conventionally grown ones and the PLU-codes standardize the pricing. So, let’s say you see two brands of green apples in the grocery but one brand costs more than the other. You look for the PLU-codes and determine if the higher priced brand was organically grown to justify the higher price.

2. You can easily steer clear of genetically modified food. If, like me, you’re wary of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the labeling is very helpful.

Genetically modified organisms? Search Google for “genetically modified food” which, essentially, refers to food the DNA of which has been altered in the laboratory. In most cases, the alteration seeks to create a strain of fruit or vegetable that has a higher yield than normal and is less prone to pest infestation. There are a lot of issues associated with genetically modified food with some claiming that the embedded herbicide (to ward off common crop pests) are poisonous to humans.

The obvious question is how reliable the PLU-codes are. Any company can create its own stickers, assign any number and pass off cheaply-produced genetically modified food as organic to command a higher price. The answer is I have no answer. Not right now, anyway.