Those little stickers you find on your fruits and vegetables, as annoying as they are, have a lot of meaning behind them. If you take a close look at them, you will notice each sticker contains a 4-5 digit numeric code called a Price Lookup (PLU) Code.
Store employees use this code in their databases to know how much to charge us when we check out, but those codes also tell us if the produce we are buying was conventionally grown or organically grown. This coding system is upheld by the International Federation for Produce Standards and it is used in Canada, the US, and many other countries. All countries exporting to Canada and the US use this system.
If the code has 4 digits - This means that your fruit or vegetable was grown conventionally. Conventionally means that it was grown on a regular farm and chemical pesticides/fertilizers were used.
If the code has 5 digits and starts with the number 9 - This means that the produce was grown organically and that no chemical based sprays or pesticides were used. If sprays/pesticides were used, they are of natural origin and are not harmful to us. In most cases, the produce was grown on a smaller farm.
If the code has 5 digits and starts with the number 8 - It's a common misconception that codes starting with the number 8 means that your produce has been genetically modified. Codes that start with the number 8 DO NOT mean that they have been genetically modified. The number 8 has been set aside as a placeholder for PLU codes IN CASE we ever move into a system that demands foods be labeled as a genetically modified organism (GMO) or not. For more info about this, read this article.
No matter what though, it's good to know what a GMO is. Food that is deemed a GMO is food that has had their genetic material altered using genetic engineering. Kinda scary sounding huh?
So why genetically alter a fruit or vegetable?
Scientists say that by doing this, they can create produce that is more nutritious, that is is drought resistant, and more. The trouble with GMO foods is that they have the potential to harm us and the environment and the full effects of eating them on a regular basis are not fully known. Preliminary results show that they can cause allergic reactions and worse. When it comes to deciding whether to buy or not to buy GMO produce, it is best to steer clear whenever possible.
Click here for the 2013 Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 list.