Forbidden Fruit?

News Note

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2004.

Approximately seven out of 10 food items in your grocery store have been genetically modified (GM) by artificially integrating one species’ DNA with another. For example, in some cases, tomato DNA has been spliced with fish genes to increase freezing tolerance in the tomatoes, and other produce has been genetically altered to contain its own pesticide, such as corn engineered to kill off corn-eating bugs. Opponents of this technology note the negative impacts — GM corn pollen kills other species besides pests, such as the monarch butterfly, and there is a lack of research reviewing the effects of GM corn consumption in humans.

Consumers in Europe and Asia have demanded labeling for such foods, citing the possibility of long-term health and environmental consequences. In the United States, however, labeling for GM foods is not required. But fortunately in the produce section, there is a way to determine the origination of fruit: Take a look at that little, often annoying, sticker with the PLU number:

• Genetically modified fruits have a five-digit PLU that always begins with the number 8.
• Conventionally grown fruits — meaning grown with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides — consist of only four numbers.
• Organically grown fruits — meaning grown without genetic modification or pesticides — have a five-digit PLU beginning with 9.

Because of the lack of labeling laws, other than PLU-marked fruit, the only way to ensure foods are not genetically modified is to buy organic. Currently, the grassroots Organic Consumers Organization is conducting a campaign to stop the commercial release of GM wheat, which would likely become ubiquitous, turning up in cereal, bread, pasta, soup and more. For more information on this campaign or other GM issues, visit