Is The Produce You Purchase Genetically Modified?

Can you determine if produce is genetically engineered from the label? I heard this was the case and decided to put this theory to the test; my results are below.

PLU Codes were developed by the International Federation of Produce Coding (IFPC), an affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association to standardize labeling of our fruits and vegetables. I’m sure all of you have seen these stickers on produce at your local grocery store, yet you probably have never given them a second thought. These stickers usually have 4 or 5 digits, and these digits are supposed to tell a story. The story goes like this:

Conventionally Grown Produce receives a 4-digit code.
Organic Produce receives a 5-digit code starting with the number 9.
Genetically Engineered/Modified Produce receives a 5-digit code starting with the number 8.

I decided to test this numbering convention at our local grocery store. My first stop, bananas, these are a staple in our house. The bananas indeed had a little sticker. The number on the sticker was 4011, so according to the PLU code protocol, these bananas were conventionally grown. Now, to continue testing the theory in the Organic aisle. Sure enough, the Organic Bananas had 5-digits, the number on the sticker was 94011. I had found the conventionally grown bananas and the organically grown bananas. I decide my research would not be complete until I found the Genetically Modifed (GM) fruits and vegetables…the 5-digit sticker that begins with the number 8. I searched high and low, but to no avail. I could not find a single sticker that began with the number 8 in the produce section. I had heard that Sugar Beets, Corn, Soybeans, Potatos, Tomatos, Squash (green and yellow), and Papaya are very frequently GM crops, is it a coincidence that these items did not have a sticker on them?

Unfortunately, the PLU labeling protocol for GM Foods is voluntary. In other words there are no regulations in the U.S. that require food retailers to disclose whether our foods DNA has been tampered with. The United States, is the only country that allows GM foods to be sold to consumers without labeling them as GM. The European Union, Australia, Japan, and many other Countries have significant restrictions, or complete bans on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), believing that these foods are not safe for human or animal consumption.

There is one store, Whole Foods Market that has a moratorium on GM produce and foods. Whole Foods prides themselves on carrying Zero GMO’s. Trader Joe’s has also taken a stance on GM foods, their private label merchandise are free of GMO’s. Unfortunately, not all of us have Whole Foods Markets, or Trader Joe’s in our region, yet we don’t want to purchase GM foods. How do we steer clear of GMO’s….Buy Organic! Buying Certified Organic food, by definition, means that the food has not been Genetically Modified. The Non-GMO Project ( and the Non-GMO Shopping Guide ( can also help you make informed decisions when purchasing produce and foods in your local grocery store. These non-profit groups were created to offer consumers in the United States and Canada a consistent non-GMO choice for organic and natural products, produced without genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technologies.

While I was disappointed to learn that the PLU Code does not tell the whole story, I am pleased to share my experience with you. Corporations like Monsanto, Dow, Bejo Zaden, Dupont, Aventis, Syngenta, and Seminis will continue to produce GMO’s, until it is no longer profitable. I am not saying that we all need to become activists, but by not purchasing GM foods our voices will be heard.

Real Food Musings

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2 responses to Is The Produce You Purchase Genetically Modified?

  1. Kathryn Blair

    That wasn't depressing at all. I knew everything in the article except Whole Foods having a moratorium on GMO foods. How can they actually know for certain when so much of what they carry is imported? Like produce? Do they test? Do they know their suppliers and trust them?

    Also, most of these "corporations" listed above ALSO OWN pharmaceutical companies somewhere in their chain. Monsanto, which originally produced Aspartame, also owns a pharm company that sells cancer treatment drugs. One part sells the toxic cancer-causing food. The other part sells the expensive drug necessary to treat the cancer you got from eating the food! DISGUSTING!

  2. Laura

    Whole foods has a strict traceability for all produce and ingredients in their products. This is very similar to what the U.K. does. Requiring companies to document the ingredient chain.

    You are correct, many of the GMO producers also have a hand in big Pharma. Until the FDA removes the revolving door it is the responsibility of the consumer to be savvy.

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