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This Hidden Code on Your Food Means It’s Genetically Modified

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 3/15/2019 Lauren Cahn
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Genetically modified foods (GMOs) have been around for two decades, but currently, 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 Disclosure Standard will require the disclosure of bioengineered foods by 2022. 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 in a World of Fads and Fiction.

The secret

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. Find out some more secrets you never knew were hidden in food labels.

Other clues

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 more than 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). 

Related video: What’s Worth Buying Organic? [via CBS]

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