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Dubai: Have you ever stopped to read the fine print on stickers affixed to fruits and wondered what those numbers convey?

Fruits, amongst several other products found in supermarkets, are labelled and categorised according to their method of cultivation, a practice monitored by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS). Placed on fruits, stickers contain a four-to-five digit code that indicates the Price Look-up (PLU) code.

Nadine Aoun, nutritionist and dietician at Medcare Hospital, said that four-digit codes starting with the numbers 3 or 4 indicate that the fruit has been conventionally grown. So that means, a peach, for example, with a four-digit number has been grown the regular way, with the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

On the other hand, five-digit codes starting with the number 9 indicate organically grown fruits. So if an apple has a number code starting with 9, it is an organic fruit.

However, five-digit codes starting with the number 8 identify genetically-modified (GM) fruits.

“While organically grown fruits contain more antioxidants, flavonoids and proteins, conventionally grown fruits are not harmful for the body,” said Nadine.

Organically grown fruits have less exposure to toxins (in the form of fertilisers) and contain less pesticide residue as compared to conventionally grown fruits. But both varieties of fruit are safe to consume though there are minor differences in terms of nutritional benefits.

“For more benefits, people should choose organic fruits, as they also do not contain food additives or preservatives [which can be the cause of allergies],” said Nadine.

“However, genetically modified [GM] fruits, I would say, are the unhealthiest simply because when you’re playing with nature, DNA is modified and altered,” she said.

Though there aren’t any studies to prove that genetically modified fruits are harmful or unhealthy, DNA alteration in animals has demonstrated lower brain growth and, in humans, intestinal problems or development of severe allergies.

“I would advise people to stick to organic and conventionally grown fruits,” said Nadine. “Genetically modified fruits are usually fruits made available all year long [and out of season] and there is no evidence to prove they are safe [to consume].”

In addition to their health benefits, organic fruits are also environmentally friendly because they do not require the use of chemicals in the agricultural process.

Also, such additives and toxins can pose a health risk in the long run, said Nadine.