Organic versus GMO 

You may have read recently on Facebook or other social media venues that you can tell how fruits and veggies are grown (conventionally, organically or with GMOs) based on the starting number on the little stickers that come on our products. Well, I decided to investigate.

Let’s define:

Conventionally Grown

This is an agriculture term referring to the method of growing edible plants. These types of products are grown using synthetic chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides. The purpose is to mass-produce and allows for out of season growing and longer shelf life.


This acronym stands for genetically modified organisms.  These foods have been altered at the gene level and treated with antibiotics and hormones.


These products have been grown free of synthetic chemicals, grown in nutrient-rich soil and are not treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

When I first read articles telling me to be a “Sticker Stickler”, I wanted to do my part, eat right and help educate others. Because let’s be honest not everything we read on the Internet is true!

So I asked Snopes if the beginning numbers on the annoying stickers on our fruits and vegetables really mean what they say. The feelings were mixed and I was provided the IFPS website for more info.

IFPS (International Federation for Produce Standards) is the organization responsible to administer PLU codes (the stickers on our produce). They have an informational 31-page User’s Guide that I will break down and paraphrase.

They state, “PLU codes have been used in supermarkets since 1990 to make check-out and inventory control easier, faster and more accurate. They are used to identify bulk produce and tell the cashier how the product was grown and it’s size. PLU stands for price look-up and contains 4-5 digits. Once started in the US and Canada, PLU codes have become international in Australia, UK, and Mexico to name a few. The use of IFPS PLU codes is voluntary.”

“The numbers range from 3000-4999, 93000-94999 and will expand to 83000-84000 in the future. The numbers 3000 or 4000 series signifies the item is conventionally grown. In the future, an additional range of numbers 83000-83999 will also be used for conventionally grown. The prefix “9” combined with 3000-4000 series signifies that the item is organic. In the future, an additional range of numbers 84000-84999 will be used for organically grown items”.

Wait, I read on Facebook that “9” means organic, “8” means GMO!

The IFPS states something different, “The 4 digit IFPS PLU codes for produce are assigned randomly within the 3000-4000 series. The 4 digit codes are for conventionally grown produce. The prefix “9” would be placed in front of the 4 digits conventionally grown code for organic produce. In the future, the IFPS will begin assigning IFPS PLU codes utilizing the 83000 and 84000 series; however, unlike “9”, the leading digit “8” will have no significance”.

So there you go, straight from the International Boards’ mouth. You can’t tell GMO produce by its PLU number, the PLU isn’t mandatory and its main function is to associate sale price. So if you are going to be a “sticker stickler”, your safest practice is to buy “9” produce, go to your farmers market and ask growing processes, or start your own garden.

Eat well friends!

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