Just What Are the Little Stickers on Fruit and Vegetables Trying to Tell Us?

As many people are aware – fruits and vegetables that you buy from grocery stores (like Earth’s General Store) have little plastic stickers on them. These stickers carry information on them – mostly to help store staff identify and correctly price these items.

The numbering system is controlled by the International Federation of Produce Standards. This is the organisation that create and control the 4 digit base code for produce.  This four digit code is called a Price Lookup Code or PLU for short. This four digit code can provide information to the retailer to let them know the difference between a field and a hot house tomato. The little sticker can also have added information on it like which country it comes from. And there is more…

For example, all banana (the usual Cavendish that we see on our shelves) have a base four digit code of 4011. This identifies the item as this type of banana to differentiate it from the other dozen or so varieties. More important to Earth’s General Store and our customers is that the Federation also added a fifth digit to items that are grown in accordance to certified organic practices.

When produce is grown and processed in accordance to the “Certified Organic” regime it takes the base number and adds a ‘9’ in front of it. The banana base code of 4011 now becomes 94011.

  • In addition the bananas Earth’s General Store sells are grown according to Certified Fair Trade practices (as well as our avocados) and have the Fair Trade sticker on them as well.

The International Federation of Produce Standards also has another prefix that was created and that is the number ‘8’. This prefix denotes that the produce is grown using genetic engineered/genetically modified technology (commonly called biotechnology).

I believe it gives people the false sense that the produce they are buying does not come from the biotech corporations. Having this prefix is misleading since the biotech industry, food converters (manufacturers of processed food), and the growers don’t want their food to be readily identified as being produced using genetically engineered seeds. This industry has spent a lot of money and political capital on ensuring that the labelling of GE/GMO foods are not labelled (California Proposition 37 and Washington I522 are the two latest examples) and they do not voluntarily label their products. The industry knows that the vast majority of consumers will avoid GMO/GE products when identified as such.

The option for industry to use the magical/mystical prefix ‘8’ on a PLU codes provides a false sense of knowledge to the consumer. It is a fabrication by the industry to give consumers a false sense of security and to mislead them – “well, this Hawaiian papaya doesn’t have ‘8’ on the produce PLU sticker so it must be fine”. NOT! For one thing my understanding is that 100% of the exported Hawaiian papayas are genetically engineered and the other no one says that they HAVE TO LABEL IT with the ‘8” prefix.

It is a myth!

At present there are only a few items that you will find in the produce aisles of your grocery store that are genetically engineered – Hawaiian papayas, some zucchini, some squashes (yellow crookneck variety), and fresh corn (sweet corn). Of course the industry is working on other fruits and vegetables to modify – the ‘Arctic Apple’ is a good example of what the industry is working on.

Producers can’t arbitrarily decide to label their produce/products as being organic without being called out on it. That is why there is an established protocol/criteria/regime that producers have to adhere to so that they can be Certified Organic. This certification is carried out by third parties to ensure that

Will abuse happen? I am sure it does but that does not mean that the food that is produced correctly and with integrity should be tarred with the same brush. This abuse would be a very small portion of the food being certified. For example if one percent of Certified Organic food was falsely marked that means that 99% was correctly Certified. Conversely food produced in the non-organic system is produced with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, and even Genetically Engineered/Modified seeds. I will take the 99% EVERYTIME!

As part of a documentary series we screened the documentary “In Organics We Trust which asks lots of questions about the industry and I believe does a good job of answering them.

Also even if the produce is not identified as being grown with biotech seeds it is still grown in a non-organic and unnatural way – fed synthetic fertilizers that pollute the waterways, pesticides/herbicides (that kill), and grown with an ever shrinking respect for the planet’s health. You might avoid GMOs but will be participating in adding to the toxic load to the planet and your body.

Fruits and vegetables that you get from the farmer’s markets don’t have these stickers since they are not part of the food supply system that benefit for the labelling system. Look for organically grown and local produce. It is the BEST option!