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How To Read A PLU Code: Organic, Conventional, GMO

August 2nd, 2013

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You may already have a garden of fresh, organic and non-GMO produce right in your backyard – never needing to worry about barcodes or pesky stickers. But the grocery store is another matter entirely.  Each number on a Price Lookup Code (PLU) is determined by the International Federation for Produce Standards, and can mean several different things. Below are some basics to checking those tiny stickers on produce – and ensuring it’s exactly what you want.

PLU Numbers on Produce Stickers

*Organic produce has a 5-digit PLU number and begins with the number 9.

*Conventional produce has a 4-digit PLU number and begins with the number 4.

*Genetically modified produce (GMO) has a 5-digit PLU number and begins with the number 8.

*In terms of packaged GMO foods, be wary of processed foods containing corn, wheat and milk products, as these are the leading genetically modified foods.

If you lose your cheat sheet, simply asking the produce person at your local grocery store can be quite helpful.

What is “organic” produce?

Certified organic produce are harvested from plants that have been grown without synthetic chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and fungicide.  Organic food production is a heavily regulated industry, and because of these regulations, organic food produced in a way that complies with organic standards set by the national government and international organizations.

What is “conventional” produce?

Conventionally grown is an agricultural term that refers to a method of growing produce on a large scale.  In this industry, fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones are used for the purpose of bringing in higher yields and better plant longevity.

What is Genetically Modified (GMO) produce?

GMO is short for “Genetically Modified Organism.” It means that intervention is required to place a specific gene in a plant, which in turn produces a protein that contains a trait that is considered desirable. Many crops today have more than one trait that prevents plants from succumbing to disease, resist pests and weeds, and even grow with vitality in a drought. In Europe, Japan, Australia, and a growing number of countries around the world, GMO’s are banned. But in the United States, genetically engineered foods are increasing, and remain unlabeled. This has led to a growing number of GMO’s entering our grocery stores without consumers even knowing it.

The most commonly altered foods are canola, corn, cotton and soy products. Keep in mind that byproducts of GMO food, like high fructose corn syrup are now finding a place in anything from ketchup to cereal.

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