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Can You REALLY Tell Which Country Your Food Is Coming From Based On The First Two Numbers Of The Barcode?

Protex Smart Technologies Co.,Ltd | Updated: Mar 14, 2016

 ●  Urban myth claims first two digits of a barcode indicates country of origin
 ●  This is false, it actually just uniquely identifies a product  
 ●  Myth has been spreading across social media, since 2008 food scandals  
 ●  Online commentator Helen Turner shared the false information
 ●  Since March 2015 the post has gone viral, receiving over 282,000 shares

The urban myth that the first two digits of a barcode on the back of processed food products indicates where a product was made is still circulating around social media - eight years since it first emerged. 

Online commentator Helen Turner has warned consumers to check the first two digits of their food product barcodes to avoid purchasing products from Asian manufacturers that only label where the product was imported to, not where their products were actually made. 

The viral Facebook post has been shared over 282,000 times since March last year. 

An urban myth claims first two digits of a barcode indicates the country of origin

However, the barcode actually just uniquely identifies a product using a number called a GTIN as opposed to indicating the country of origin.

GS1 Australia, a not-for-profit organisation administers and issues authorised GS1 Barcode numbers (GTINs) for Australian businesses beginning with 93. 

Company prefixes are based on the GS1 prefixes. But since GS1 member companies can manufacture products anywhere in the world, GS1 prefixes do not identify the country of origin for a given product.
Maria Palazzolo, Chief Executive Officer at GS1 Australia told Foodmag.com.au that Australian retailers adopted the GS1 system of numbering and barcoding as their preferred standard of trade 36 years ago.
'This means that all products that are sold to and by a retailer need to be uniquely identified with a GS1 Barcode that has a unique product identification number called a GTIN (Global Trade Item Number). The GTIN is printed below the black and white stripes of a typical barcode.' 

GS1 COMPANY PREFIX LIST 
930 - 939: Australia
940 - 949: New Zealand 
000 - 019: United States
500 - 509: United Kingdom 
300 - 379: France 
867: GS1 North Korea
690 - 699: China
489: Hong Kong
893: Vietnam
471: Taiwan 
480: Philippines 
885: Thailand
628: Saudi Arabia
629: United Arab Emirates 
Source: GS1 Company Prefix List

Ms Turner warned of purchasing products from Asian countries such as China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand.
'There are no food inspection regulations of foods grown or processed in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong or Thailand,' Ms Turner said.
A number of food safety incidents in China brought to light in 2008 such as the Chinese milk scandal, which involved milk and infant formula being contaminated with melamine, instigated a chain reaction among consumers about the origin of any product, Ms Palazzalo said. 
'Consumers were led to believe that the first two to three digits of a product's barcode would tell them where the product was made. This presumption was, and still is, fiction and completely incorrect,' she said.  
Since GS1 ID keys are globally unique, they can be shared between organisations, increasing supply chain visibility for trading partners. 
While Ms Turner claims that barcodes beginning with 93 indicate a product was in fact made in Australia, GS1 Barcodes beginning with 93 simply mean that the barcode number was sourced from GS1 Australia.
Ms Turner said: 'This is our right to know, but our governments and related departments never educate the public, therefore we have to RESCUE OURSELVES.'
'Nowadays, Chinese businessmen know that consumers do not prefer products 'Made in China', so they don't show from which country it is made. However, you may now refer to the barcode.' 

Online commentator Helen Turner has warned consumers to check the first two digits of their food product barcodes to avoid purchasing products from Asian manufacturers that only label where the product was imported to, not where their products were actually made

Ms Turner also warned consumers to not buy processed food products from Hong Kong.  
'Basically, do not buy any processed food [sic] from China. This includes Hong Kong. MANY companies are using a Hong Kong address to avoid this type of image reputation.'
One social media user commented: 'Wow! Such informative details. Thank you so much for the efforts you have made to make us all aware! So sad to think how many market gardens have closed here in Australia all to comply with our quality standards yet the Chinese government funds ALL the freight costs for ALL their businesses!'
'Oh to think how costly for our businesses to produce and conform only to find out how much they've and we've been betrayed by so called globalisation and 'free trade'! Disgusting,' Robert Luke said. 
However, this is an urban myth that has perpetuated for almost a decade now.
'GS1 Barcodes allow companies all over the world to trade with each other using a common identification system and derive the benefits associated with the GS1 system, but they do not identify where the product was manufactured or from where it originated,' Ms Palazzolo said.