A while back, I stumbled onto a little known fact. The PLU codes on produce at your supermarket actually mean things (besides what kind of fruit or veggie it is)! For example, organic produce has a 5-digit PLU code beginning with the number 9. Conventionally raised produce has a 4-digit PLU code, and (wonder of wonders!) genetically modified produce has a 5-digit PLU code beginning with the number 8.
When getting fresh vegetables from local farmers, PLU codes don’t seem all that important. After all, I can just ask the farmer about his growing practices and where he gets his seed from. So, I tucked away this handy bit of knowledge about supermarket produce, thinking I might use it some day.
Then this week, I read an eye-opening article by Jeffrey Smith (the founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology). He says PLU codes don’t reveal the GMO origins of produce. Why? Because they’re optional.
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 hasn’t. 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.
Some seed companies don’t even want gardeners to know which seed is genetically modified. One company that sells zucchini seeds outfitted with virus genes announced that they would refuse to sell seed packets in Vermont, since the state legislature requires GM seeds to be labeled.
So, there you have it. PLU codes don’t tell you squat about whether produce is genetically modified. Fortunately, the kinds of GMO produce in the U.S. are quite limited: Hawaiian papayas, some zucchini and yellow squash, and corn on the cob. If you don’t buy these organic, they *may* be genetically-modified (or they may not be). If that uncertainty bothers you, stick to the organic label.
(photo by pswansen)