Monday, February 8, 2010

Do the UPC codes really indicate the Country of Origin for the product?

Original publication of State of the Nation at The Desk of Brian,

 A recent chain email communicated that the "Made in China" indication is falling to the wayside, but consumers can look to the bar code to identify the country or origin.

One example of this email:

If you want to avoid buying China imported food... you will need to know how to read the bar code on the products to see where they are actually coming from...

If the bar code starts from : 690 or 691 or 692 they are from China

If the bar code starts from : 471 they are from Taiwan

If the bar code starts from : 45 or 49 they are from Japan

If the bar code starts from : 489 they are from Hong Kong

There is some truth to the label identification process, but as illustrates (here) it can be erroneous.

"For example a company may have its headquarters in South Africa. The EAN organization in South Africa has the code "600", but all the products of the company may be manufactured in England. The English-made products would still have the "600" prefix code."

Another example at Snopes illustrates how fruit from Guatemala is packed and shipped through Mexico and therefore, likely would have the code for Mexico NOT Guatemala.

So there's some truth to the label's prefix, but it reflects the companies registration rather than a 100% reflection of the product's origin.

Here's what we know for sure:

  • "Made in XYZ" is still the best way to determine origins of products.
  • If there's no "COO" code (Country of Origin) then it's not required and almost assured to be from the United States.

There a contention that is fighting to close this loophole, especially with all of the processing of foods.

For a complete list of codes and details on understanding them:

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