If you still find yourself purchasing produce at the grocery store, you may wonder just where it’s come from and if it fits within your personal food requirements. I can’t help you with the origin of your fruits and veggies, but I can offer up a little trick for finding out if the produce you’re considering is grown conventionally, organically, or is (shudder!) genetically modified.
You know those little stickers on produce? The International Federation for Produce Standards uses a four or five digit code to identify certain types of produce. If you know what you’re looking for, you can utilize those stickers to make buying decisions about your family’s fruit and vegetable consumption.
- A four digit code (or a five digit code that begins with a zero) indicates your run-of-the-mill piece of produce, grown with traditional farming methods which may include the use of pesticides and herbicides.
- A five digit code beginning with the number nine indicates an organically grown fruit or vegetable.
- A five digit code beginning with the number eight indicates a piece of produce that’s been genetically modified. (See update, below.)
With all the uncertainty about the safety of GMO (genetically modified) crops in the news these days and the unscrupulous business practices of GMO giant Monsanto, many families (including mine) are doing their best to avoid GMO foods. And of course, the pesticides and herbicides commonly used in farming have been linked to cancers like melanoma and breast cancer.
I find I’m purchasing less produce at the grocery store these days, but this is a good guide for those times that I do! What produce do you find yourself buying at the grocery store? What can you get at your local farmers market?
UPDATE: After much conversation about this on the Attainable Sustainable Facebook page, it’s come to light that since this sticker program is voluntary, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll actually see a 5-digit number beginning with an eight. In this post, Jeffrey Smith says, “the 5-digit PLU codes on produce do not tell you what is genetically modified or natural.” His argument that the stickers are useless is based on the fact that they are not meant to be used by consumers. I disagree; they may not be intended as a tool for consumers, but that doesn’t render them entirely useless. Will producers voluntarily use the number eight, announcing the fact that an item has been genetically modified? Probably not. But a proud organic grower will certainly use the number nine, meaning that consumers can use the system to identify organic produce. I think the bigger issue here is that here in the USA we are having to have this conversation in the first place. Consumers should have the opportunity to decide if they’ll eat GMO foods; it’s time for these foods to be labeled as such!