How to spot GMO produce

I buy 90% of my produce directly from organic farmers at their farms or the local farmers' markets. But for that 10% that I end up buying at the grocery store, I've learned how to crack the code that identifies which fruits/veggies are genetically modified.

Every piece of produce at a grocery store has to have a sticker on it that has a 4 or 5 digit number (the PLU, or Product Look Up code) on it identifying its type, whether it was grown organically or conventionally, and whether or not it was genetically modified. Our grocery stores normally do a good job labeling organic produce but never point out what's GMO.

Here's how you tell:

If the sticker PLU code is four digits long, the item was grown conventionally using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. (eg, 4053 is the code for a conventionally grown lemon).

If the code is 5 digits and starts with a 9, the item was grown organically on a farm certified to have been free of synthetic chemical influences for at least 3 years. (eg, 94758 is the code for an organically grown butternut squash).

If the code is 5 digits long and starts with an 8, the produce was genetically modified to change shelf life, appearance, etc and cannot reproduce itself from seed. (eg, 84318 indicates a GMO cantaloupe. the sticker will only say "Cantaloupe" with 84318 beneath it).

So next time you shop for produce at a grocery store, look at the numbers on the stickers and find out if what you're eating has been genetically modified! There are so many good reasons, personal, local and global, to eliminate these from our lives.

Original Post
Hi Grace,

I'm so glad to hear that you're doing your research and keeping your eyes open about such things. I have never heard about the usp # way of identifying GMO produce. I would have thought it would be widely known by now. May I ask where you got this information from? I had a notice go around a couple of years ago about a way of identifying 'Made in China' products but did not realize that GMO had a particular code attached to it. In fact I thought that many farmers do not even know for sure if their seeds are 'special.' My uncle sells seeds and has for many years. Monsanto owns a higher and higher percentage of seed companies but it sounds to me as if it's not even clear to the seed sellers which seeds have been modified. Thus I would bet that many produce items, at least those sold by small to medium producers, may have uncertain origins. If a seed audit was ever followed, certainly the source would be uncovered but.... I sure hope I'm wrong and that you are right and that this is something we can count on. I'm excited by what you say and thus want more information. The people who know about and care about GMO's are determined enough to read USP codes for sure!

Thanks for clarifying Grace. And thanks so much for caring enough to inform others!


You're making a really good point, Tarilee. I buy most of my produce from organic farmers who get their seeds from certified organic growers, so I wasn't thinking about where the conventional growers get their seeds. YOu're absolutely correct about Monsanto and the systematic effort to create a world that is reliant on their genetically engineered seeds.

I don't know if there is regulation that requires that products that come from GMO seeds be labeled GMO. If not, why would anyone label them? I've made that assumption but haven't checked it out. That would be good to know!

In the meantime, I've seen the information about reading PLU codes in several places (Mary Jane's Organic Farm magazine ran an article recently, several websites related to organic food describe it, etc). I don't want to post the websites here since I understand that's an agreement we make, but can direct you to one by Healthy Child Healthy World for starters. There are also less user-friendly sites designed for grocery retailers to look up and read the codes. A google search will turn up plenty.

thanks for giving me something else to think about. Just when you think you've sorted something out....

Thanks Grace,

I subscribe to the Organics Association newsletter. I'll pull up their contact information and ask if they know of this. Those who knowingly sell GMO's are fairly motivated to conceal their Frankenscience origins due to consumer suspicion of this technology.

I appreciate that you care about this issue and I think knowing about such issues is a crucial component of citizens taking our power back. We start to take our health back and this puts us back in touch with the wisdom of Nature. The challenging gift that happens at this point is the awareness of just how darn hard it IS to live naturally in this world and to eat safely and healthfully. It is challenging but it brings awareness of a better way and it offers the opportunity for us to be a part of the solution. Because I feel SO strongly about the politics of food, I will not refrain from a slight rant on the subject.

In Canada and the US there have been long standing battles about the labelling of GMO's. The citizens of course want to see on the label if a food is GMO sourced or not. Of course neither the transnational food co's that distribute the produce nor Monsanto want us to know. This is because they know GMO labels will reduce sales, giving advantage to their non GMO competitors. Therefore, they have been fighting hard to retain the right to conceal this information.

Large corporations can easily fight the labeling of their foods as different based on US legislation that treats these foods with no greater safety regulation than any other food.

They also can and do argue NAFTA Chapter eleven to avoid such labeling. They can make the argument that imposing such restrictions on their sales approach could impede profits directly or indirectly. Under chapter eleven, our governments could be prevented from imposing any restriction that could be perceived as reducing their profit, even when environmental health, human health or human rights are at stake.

Actually, unless there is international consensus on a risk (and when is there!?), using the so named, "precautionary principle" is restricted from use by international trade obligations.

A Citizen's Guide to the World Trade Organization explains some of the ludicrous privileges that our worlds most psychopathic "persons", our corporations have. Corporations have the legal rights of persons but few of the responsibilities. They use these rights to manipulate trade practices that are in their best interest but not always in ours.

The abuse of corporate power is partly to blame for the strange changes we've been seeing in our world in recent decades as we get further and further from a safe, natural, healthy world. Corporations are now considered 'persons' under the law.

International WTO rules grant corporations a lot of power. Then, as in in the giant biotech/chemical company, Monsanto's case, we see some ridiculously biased government decisions. The US government made a outlandish decision several years ago to approve the patenting of life. They can patent all seeds and living organisms except for a full human being. I say this was a biased decision as there are some obvious conflicts of interest (some would say incestuous relations) between government and major trade leaders.

Corporation have a constant advantage because they hold tremendous financial and legal power. They cannot be sued yet they can sue our government. They can also threaten to withdraw their operations from our countries and thus pull out millions and sometimes billions in tax revenue for their host governments.

Most of us have no idea how little power (or incentive) our governments have to protect us from corporate choices. Over time, intentionally or unintentionally, they have become interdependent with these companies.

Politicians who have long range vision and understand cause and effect when it comes to consequences from reckless allowance of risks, do try to change policies to more cautious ones but they are often silenced.

In North America, wise, sustainable political perspectives are rare. Europe has tried to ban GMO's and do seem to be more careful to a large degree but international trade sanctions for those who don't cooperate wield a very big potential for loss and so the companies usually get the benefits or tax breaks they want in the end without the restrictions that the government might initially try to impose.

If any of you are interested in knowing more, there are three documentaries that I’ve appreciated for their illustration of the power of multi-nationals. They include: The Corporation, The World According to Monsanto and, Who Killed the Electric Car. Apparently Michael Moore’s new film about capitalism is worth seeing though his insightful films sometimes use some creative license with the staging of examples.

Once you’ve watched The Corporation, the twenty minute online film called The Story of Stuff by Free Range films, is a great follow up! When you think you’ve seen so much negativity and you just can’t bear the dark view of the world, watch Fresh. It’s about local food production and the beautiful multi dimensional empowerment of growing organic food security near home and with people we know.

Another happy film is Fierce Light, where spirit meets action. And, Michael Pollan’s books like, In Defense of Food and his videos that you can watch, all provide some solutions and a brighter, smarter perspective.

Take good care all and try to find strength in living what you believe. It's inspiring for ourselves and, when done gently, for others when we “ are the change…” (Gandhi) Cheers to the removal of the 'scales from our eyes'!


I'm a Capitalist through and through. But, I must admit to corporate deviance. In the early ninties when the government was trying to establish consistant Organic guidelines one of the large multi-nat food conglomerates was trying to get waste water sludge to be considered as organic fertalizer. How sick is that.
As my brother likes to say, "There's no human sacrifice too great for a corporate profit. Leon
Hi Leon,

Yes, I agree with your brother's quote. Corporations are only accountable to their shareholders profit numbers, not to the environment, or human social, mental and physical well being- which are of course, intimately connected with the health of the environment in which we live.

The World According to Monsanto expands on the WORST case scenario of corporations abusing their legal protection as "persons." Their abuses put the health of the entire biosphere and ethnosphere at serious risk. Neo Liberalism and capitalism are a nasty mix and there is no longer much that is democratic about our current form of capitalism. The extra's on the film The Corporation go into some very interesting explorations of the problem of sweat shops. Despite popular belief, there are hundreds of them in the US. There is even slave labour in the US today. Once we learn about these things, we can learn how to avoid supporting such practices.

We are all just losing more and more choices about the quality of our health and we're losing them to the small number of very rich people who are getting richer and richer, as we cooperate by being willing consumers of their way of business.

Food Inc is another VERY important film to see.

Take care all,


PS Check out Greenpeace for a guide to GMO foods!