There has been a rumor circulating for years that the number on the PLU code for produce can signify whether the item is genetically modified. Supposedly, if the 5-digit number begins with ‘8’ it is GMO. Not so. The 5 digit code beginning with ‘8’ is not used to designate GMO produce.
The International Federation for Produce Standards acknowledges on their website that they have plans to use the 83000 and 84000 series of PLU codes in the future, but that they will have “no significance.“
PLU codes, in case you are wondering, are the little bar-coded stickers on produce that “ring up” the right price (hopefully) at the cash register in the grocery store. The 4-digit codes are for conventionally grown produce; 5-digit codes beginning with ‘9’ are used to identify organic produce.
PLU codes were created for the benefit of retailers – not consumers. It is a voluntary system, and not regulated by any governmental agency. Thus, you see loose, unlabeled produce in the stores. The 4-digit PLU codes are assigned randomly within the 3000 and 4000 series.
Without mandated labeling, it is VERY unlikely that there will be any systematic method to identify produce that is genetically modified. For the time being, the best way to find out is to ask your produce manager at the store. They can contact their suppliers.
Currently, the only GMO produce on the market is a small amount of zucchini, yellow squash, sweet corn, and papaya. Coming on to the market: “White Russet” potatoes and “Arctic” apples. More about those later.
Major commodity crops raised from GMO seed include: corn (90%), soybeans (93%), canola (93%), cotton (90%), and sugar beets (98%).* Genetically modified alfalfa is grown for use as hay and forage for animals. For more information about avoiding GMOs in food, go to NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.
*percentages are based on U.S. acreage as of 2013 (USDA)
About IRT. The Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT) is a non-profit organization that researches and reports news and information about the health risks of genetically engineered food. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are present in processed foods and many food products.
International Federation for Produce Standards. http://www.ifpsglobal.com/; http://www.ifpsglobal.com/Identification/PLU-Codes
National Grocers Association. http://www.nationalgrocers.org/docs/default-source/student-programs/mining-the-data-in-fresh-foods.pdf?sfvrsn=0
U.S. Department of Agriculture. www.aphis.usda.gov/biotechnology/news