Although barcodes have been around on a global scale for over 40 years, there still appears to be some confusion about the humble symbol, what the numbers mean and that familiar beep that is heard approximately six billion times around the world every day.
Chief executive officer Maria Palazzolo at GS1 Australia said: “Thirty-six years ago, Australian retailers adopted the GS1 system of numbering and barcoding as their preferred standard of trade.
“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 Australia, a not-for-profit organisation administers and issues authorised GS1 barcode numbers (GTIN) for Australian businesses beginning with 93.
Debunking the urban myth
To debunk the many urban myths that have surrounded barcoding since its inception, here is all you need to know about GS1 barcodes.
Since 2008, a story originating from the US has been shared across international borders about the product scares involving melamine-tainted pet foods, lead-tainted toys, and melamine-tainted milk products – all originating in China.
“This started a chain reaction amongst consumers about the country of origin of any product, which is still on trend today. It re-emerges every few months through social media,” Mrs Palazzolo added.
“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.”
The country of origin has nothing to do with any of the digits of a GS1 barcode. The GS1 barcode is all about unique product identification.
A GS1 barcode uniquely identifies a product using a product identification number called a GTIN. Businesses put GS1 Barcodes on their products to sell them locally and globally in multiple industry sectors.
The barcode number is read by a scanner, processed into a number, and is simply an access key to a database record that describes details of the product.
To ensure barcode numbers are globally unique and the correct standards-based implementation support is provided to local GS1 user companies, GS1 Global Office, based in Brussels, has authorised GS1 Member Organisations in countries around the world to manage the GS1 system in that country under exclusive licences.
The GS1 prefix does not represent country of origin
GS1 is present in 111 countries around the world, and each member organisation has been allocated a two or three digit GS1 prefix from which they can allocate barcode numbers to their subscriber members. GS1 Australia has been allocated and authorised to issue numbers with the GS1 prefix 93.
GS1 Australia is the ONLY official source for GS1 barcode numbers and standards in Australia. The GS1 barcode numbers allocated to member companies by GS1 Australia begin with the GS1 prefix 93.
GS1 members can manufacture products anywhere in the world and source raw materials on a local or international basis. GS1 prefixes do not identify the country of origin for a given product. They identify the country and the GS1 member organisation the GS1 Barcode number was sourced from.
GS1 barcodes beginning with 93 simply mean that the barcode number was sourced from GS1 Australia.
The structure of the barcode was never intended, and should never be used, as a guide to country of origin or any other details about the product including raw ingredients, additives, place of manufacture or packaging.
It is important to also note that government regulators such as Food Standard Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) dictate labelling requirements for all food products in Australia. These regulations are totally independent of the GS1 barcodes and are intended to provide the consumer with all the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision.
Mrs Palazzolo added: “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.