Have you ever seen a little ticker on your apples, bananas or cilantro with a 4- or 5-digit number and wondered what it means? Or, you want to know for sure if the apple you’re about to buy is organic or conventional?
The digits are referred to as the produce look-up code (PLU). PLUs are the way that the produce industry manages inventory and pricing. There’s a 4-digit PLU code assigned for almost all items sold in the produce aisle, from fruits and veggies to herbs and spices and even some nuts and dried fruit.
Several websites have reported that certain PLU codes will help you detect genetically modified items However, to date, no one is using the “8” to indicate a GMO product. Probably because companies aren’t required tell us if their product contains genetically modified material.
However, that may all change come this November when Californians have the opportunity to vote on Prop 37. According to a NY Times piece about the proposed labeling law: Prop 37’s is clear on two points: it would require labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if made from plants or animals with genetic material and it would prohibit foods with GMOs to be labeled as “natural.”
The PLU for bananas is “4011” a GMO banana would be 84011. On the other hand, the symbol for organic is the number “9” in front of the 4-digit PLU code so 94011 would indicate an organic banana: you’ll see plenty of 94011-labeled bananas in supermarkets.
The entire PLU system is voluntary and GMO labeling is also voluntary (who would voluntarily fess up to having products containing GMOs) . However, if legislation passes that makes GMO labeling mandatory, then we’d probably start seeing “84011” bananas in supermarkets too.
What is your opinion? Do you want to have GMOs labeled on foods? Let us know.
–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD