The myth of PLU codes and GMO foods
2013-06-12 0:00

By Alecia Bayer | Examiner

Do you look for the four or five digit code on your produce to help avoid GMO foods? Youíll find lots of advice online telling you to do just that, but thereís one problem -- itís pretty much complete nonsense.

Many sites online will tell you to look for this code in order to know what youíre buying. Find a number that starts with a 9, for instance, and the food is organic. Find a number that starts with an 8, and itís GMO.

While itís true that fresh produce in supermarkets is labeled with a code to help identify it, this code is meant to help retailers with inventory, pricing and identification. The use of that 8 or 9 is completely optional.

Suppliers can choose to label their produce as organic or GMO. In the case of organics, they will obviously choose to add that extra digit since consumers tend to pay extra and seek out organic produce. In the case of GMO foods, it is incredibly rare for any supplier to add the 8 to the front of the code -- whether the food is GMO or not.

As Jeffrey Smith of the Huffington Post reported:

"Letís put a rumor to rest. No, the 5-digit PLU codes on produce do not tell you what is genetically modified or natural. This urban legend has circulated long enough, even on the best of websites. Itís time to take it down."

He continues:
"Those that run PLU-universe figured that someday some retailer might want to distinguish between a GMO and a non-GMO for price or inventory purposes. So they created a convention of 5 digits starting with an 8, just in case it catches on. But it hasnít. No one uses that number 8 as far as we can tell. And why would they? Most Americans say they would avoid GMOs if they were labeled."

I called the International Federation for Produce Standards, which oversees the numeric code system, to verify this. An employee confirmed that suppliers can choose to leave the 8 off. She told me, "You could. Itís a voluntary system. But if you see the 8 then you know itís a GMO item."


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