Genetically modified foods make crops easier and cheaper to grow, but they may pose a threat to our health and the environment. Whether you’re pro, con, or neutral about GMOs, they’re everywhere. The question is, how can you tell when a food has been genetically modified?
Mirco Vacca/ShutterstockGenetically modified foods (GMOs) have been around for two decades, but currenly, they’re the subject of intense debate about whether or not they’re good for us and our planet. Labeling isn’t yet mandated, but the National Bioengineered Food Law will require federal labeling laws by the middle of 2018. In the meantime, we’re gonna let you in on a trick for figuring out which food at the grocery store has been genetically modified. It comes to us care of David Friedman, ND, doctor of naturopathy, board certified in alternative medicine and integrative medicine, and author of Food Sanity: How to Eat I a World of Fads and Fiction.
You’ll find a sticker on all grocery store produce, Dr. Friedman tells Reader’s Digest. The sticker is known as a “PLU.” Here’s how to crack its numerical code:
- Organic produce has a five-digit code beginning with “9.”
- Conventionally grown produce has a four-digit code.
- GMO produce begins with “8.”
Unfortunately, with labeling laws in flux, many growers omit the first digit, leaving consumers scratching their heads. But for now, only corn, soybeans, potatoes, squash, papayas, apples, alfalfa, and sugar beets have been approved by the USDA to be genetically modified and are currently being grown, according to the Genetic Literacy Project.
If you find yourself staring down the business end of a four-digit PLU, you can look for the “USDA Certified Organic” or “Non-GMO Project’s Product Verification” labels, neither of which can be used unless the food is GMO-free. If you don’t see a five-digit PLU beginning “9,” assume it’s GMO. Because 90 percent of all soybean and corn grown in the US is GMO, most foods containing corn or soybean, or any derivative thereof, is GMO. Other popular GMO ingredients include sugar, aspartame, canola oil, dairy, and canola.
What if the label says “GMO-free,” “Non-GMO,” or “No GMOs”?
Don’t be fooled. Until the labeling regulations are finalized, labels bearing these terms could mean anything or nothing.
What’s wrong with GMO’s?
“Most GMOs are herbicide tolerant and resistant to infestation and disease,” Dr. Friedman explains. That means farmers can more liberally use herbicides and pesticides, and those toxins end up in our food, and studies indicate serious health risks may be associated with GMO consumption (including infertility, accelerated aging, and liver dysfunction).
Ready to buy organic? Read these 13 surprising facts about organic foods.