Fact Check: A Barcode Does NOT Tell You A Product's Country Of Origin

Hoax Alert

  • by: Alexis Tereszcuk
Fact Check: A Barcode Does NOT Tell You A Product's Country Of Origin Not The Case

Can a barcode tell you what a product's country of origin is? No, that's not true: That claim is misleading. A barcode for a product really only reveals where the person or company that purchased the barcode is from; it does not reveal the where the product was manufactured.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, people in the United States have become suspicious of China and Chinese products since the infection is believed to have begun in the city of Wuhan. Posts making the rounds claim to help people avoid buying products that were made in China, and other countries around the world, in favor of American and Canadian products.

The claim, first debunked more than 10 years ago, was revived as a post (archived here) by Matthew Davin Marler on Facebook on April 6, 2020, under the title "ALWAYS READ THE LABELS ON THE FOODS YOU BUY." It opened:

ALWAYS READ THE LABELS ON THE FOODS YOU BUY--NO MATTER WHAT THE FRONT OF THE BOX OR PACKAGE SAYS, TURN IT OVER AND READ THE BACK---CAREFULLY!
With all the food and pet products now coming from China , it is best to make sure you read label at the grocery store and especially Walmart when buying food products.
Many products no longer show where they were made, only give where the distributor is located.
It is important to read the bar code to track it's origin.
How to read Bar Codes .... interesting!

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

This claim is not new; it was debunked in 2008 by Snopes.com and nationwidebarcode.com -- explaining that the numbers in barcodes may not always correspond to where a product is made, manufactured or grown.

Here is the full text of the posts that are going viral, earning over 25,000 shares on Facebook.

ALWAYS READ THE LABELS ON THE FOODS YOU BUY--NO MATTER WHAT THE FRONT OF THE BOX OR PACKAGE SAYS, TURN IT OVER AND READ THE BACK---CAREFULLY!
With all the food and pet products now coming from China , it is best to make sure you read label at the grocery store and especially Walmart when buying food products.
Many products no longer show where they were made, only give where the distributor is located.
It is important to read the bar code to track it's origin.
How to read Bar Codes .... interesting!
This may be useful to know when grocery shopping, if it's a concern to you.
GREAT WAY TO "BUY USA & CANADA " AND NOT FROM CHINA!!
The whole world is concerned about China-made "black hearted goods".
Can you differentiate which one is made in Taiwan or China ?
If the first 3 digits of the barcode are 690 691 or 692, the product is MADE IN CHINA.
471 is Made in Taiwan .
This is our right to know, but the government 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 - remember if the first 3 digits are:
690-692 ... then it is MADE IN CHINA
00 - 09 ... USA & CANADA
30 - 37 FRANCE
40 - 44 GERMANY
471 ... Taiwan
49 ... JAPAN
50 ... UK
BUY USA & CANADIAN MADE by watching for "0" at the beginning of the number.
We need every boost we can get! Pass this on to everybody on your E-Mail Contact List!!
If the government won't help us, we MUST help ourselves.

The barcode post claims to teach people how to buy American or Canadian-made products instead of products from China. Even though it was debunked as early as 2008, it has resurfaced amid the COVID-19 pandemic -- nearly 145,000 dead from the disease worldwide as of April 16, 2020 -- since the coronavirus is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. This has created an increase of anti-Asian, and specifically anti-Chinese, sentiment in the United States and elsewhere.

The post's claims are faulty. Nationwidebarcode.com has explained how barcodes come into existence -- and if the numbers correspond to a country of production. In August 2011, the company wrote the following in response to the false claims:

The Real Story....

EAN and UPC Barcodes all originate from the GS1.

Whether you purchase a barcode prefix from the GS1 or purchase a barcode from a company like Nationwide Barcode, the barcode will indicate the country where the prefix originated regardless of where that company has their products manufactured.

The GS1 is a corporation, they are not a government agency. The GS1 originated in the US and are now in every major country in the world.

All UPC-A barcodes (12 digit barcodes) originate from either the US or Canada and do not show the country code in the human readable numbers (the numbers below the barcode). If it's a 12 digit number, its a UPC Barcode and the company received their barcode prefix or barcode number either in the US or in Canada.

UPC Barcodes numbers look like this:
X XXXXX YYYYY Z
X XXXXX XYYYY Z
X XXXXX XXYYY Z
X XXXXX XXXYY Z

The Xs represent the prefix that the company received from the GS1. If a company purchases a barcode from a company like Nationwide Barcode or another barcode subdivider, that company owns the prefix.

The Ys are left up to the owner of the barcode prefix to generate at their discretion.
In the first example YYYYY can be 00000 through 99999. Once they run out of barcode numbers, they need to get another prefix and start over with that one.

The majority of POS systems (Point of Sale - Electronic Cash Registers) in the US and Canda can only read UPC numbers. They are not set up to read EAN numbers that are used in the rest of the world. Products that are sold in Europe, Australia, Asia or other parts of the world are usually imported by an American or Canadian company, are private labeled or relabeled and include a UPC barcode.

Elsewhere in the world, EAN barcodes are used. Originally used in Europe, EAN originally was an abbreviation for 'European Article Number' after EAN barcodes started being used in other countries it now stands for 'International Article Number'

Using the same example as above, a British company selling products in any countries excluding US and Canada will have barcodes that look like this

5 0XXXXX YYYYYZ
5 0XXXXX XYYYYZ
5 0XXXXX XXYYYZ
5 0XXXXX XXXYYZ

The best way to determine whether or not something is made in the United States or Canada is to look at the packaging for an indication of where the product was made, visit the American Business First Website or to contact the manufacturer.

For the entire list of Country Codes and to learn more about Barcode UPC and EAN, read or download a free copy of Barcodes Demystified here: http://www.www.nationwidebarcode.com/Barcodes-Demystified/

For information on GS1, go here.

Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.


  Alexis Tereszcuk

Alexis Tereszcuk is a writer and fact checker at Lead Stories and an award-winning journalist who spent over a decade breaking hard news and celebrity scoop with RadarOnline and Us Weekly.

As the Entertainment Editor, she investigated Hollywood stories and conducted interviews with A-list celebrities and reality stars.  

Alexis’ crime reporting earned her spots as a contributor on the Nancy Grace show, CNN, Fox News and Entertainment Tonight, among others.

Read more about or contact Alexis Tereszcuk

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