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VERIFY: Does a barcode number tell you where a product was made?

A viral post says that you can look at a product barcode to see where the item was manufactured. Our Verify expert says that's false.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Does a barcode number tell you where a product was made?

ANSWER:

No, a barcode does not tell you where an item was manufactured. The number tells you what the item is, who owns the item and which GS1 office licensed the number.

SOURCES:

Angela Fernandez: Vice President of Community Engagement at GS1 US

GS1 website

PROCESS:

The Verify inbox is filled with your questions about suspicious claims being shared on social media about coronavirus.

One Facebook post with close to 400,000 shares online says to pick up a product and look at the barcode. If the first three digits are 690, 691 or 692 the product was made in China. The post goes on to say, 'Buy American."

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There's all kinds of undertones in this post, but the Verify team only looks at the facts. We're verifying, do the first three digits of a barcode number really tell you where an item is made?

Our verify researchers spoke with Angela Fernandez at GS1 US, a global non-profit that’s been licensing barcode numbers since the 1970s.

Fernandez said its a pretty common misconception. A barcode number is like a fingerprint for products, it’s a unique set of digits that tell you what it is and who owns it.

The first few numbers, or GS1 prefix, indicate which GS1 office around the world, issued the barcode number.

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Our researchers checked and the barcode numbers in the post do match up with the office in China, but that number doesn’t tell you where the product was made.

"It simply tells you who’s responsible for that product, who owns it, who’s the brand that’s associated with it," Fernandez said. "There’s no way to know where a product was manufactured just by looking at that number."

GS1 provides a comprehensive answer to this misconception on their FAQ page:

 "No, The GS1 Prefix does not show the country of origin," the website said. "An EAN-13 barcode number always starts with the GS1 Prefix of the GS1 Member Organisation that allocated the barcode number. The GS1 Prefix does not indicate that the product was manufactured in a specific country or by a specific manufacturer; it may have been produced anywhere in the world." 

A company can also license a barcode number with any GS1 location regardless of where they’re headquartered, a spokesperson confirmed.

So we can verify that there’s no way to know where a product was made based solely on a barcode number.

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