Organic Labeling

Kerrie Saunders MS, LLP, PhD
VegNews Magazine

Have you ever wondered if your produce is truly organic? The information below will help you to read and understand the organic labeling system. There are three main coding systems you’ll find in your local grocery store:

  • The 12-digit Universal Product Codes (UPC), designed for more efficient inventory and customer checkouts of canned and boxed foods.
  • The International Federation for Produce Codings’ 2001 Product Lookup Code (PLU). This is not a regulatory system, and there is no requirement for stores to use PLUs.
  • The coded sticker found on most produce sold in North America. This is the sticker you want to look for.
    • This coded sticker on organic produce has a five-digit number beginning with a 9. An organic banana, for example, would be labeled 94011.
    • Conventionally-grown produce has a four-digit number beginning with a 3 or 4, so the conventionally-grown banana would be 4011.
    • Genetically-engineered produce will have a five-digit number beginning with an 8, so a genetically-engineered banana would be 84011.

However, be aware that the FDA stated in 1992 that biotech foods are the same as conventional foods. Couple that with the fact that biotech companies prefer that we not have access to information on what we’re buying, and you will find that the number 8 designation will rarely be found on a label.

Check out for more information and labeling updates.

This article was first published in the July+August 2006 issue of VegNews Magazine. Subscriptions can be ordered at


Our Sponsors