How to Tell Where Your Food Comes from


Consumers in North America and Europe are consciously opting for nationally – or better still locally – grown foods as a way of reducing fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions. Increasing concern over “food miles” (i.e. the distance their food travels before reaching their table) has led the US Congress to enact country of origin labeling (COOL) on fresh beef, pork, lamb, fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables. The right of the US government to require COOL was recently upheld by the World Trade Organization, in response to a complaint by Canada and Mexico. The WTO ruling is confusing, as the secret tribunal that decides such matters also ruled the COOL labeling requirements the US was requiring were excessively burdensome. See WTO Dispute Settlement.

Although COOL labeling is not required on frozen, canned or processed foods, the country responsible for manufacturing an item is indicated by the first three digits of the bar code. The latter is used universally in automated checkout systems.

Deciphering the bar code:

  • 00-13 USA & Canada
  • 30-37 France
  • 40-44 Germany
  • 49 Japan
  • 50 UK
  • 57 Denmark
  • 64-Finland
  • 76 Switzerland and Liechtenstein
  • 93 Australia
  • 94 New Zealand
  • 480–489 Philippines
  • 628 Saudi-Arabia
  • 629 United Arab Emirates
  • 690-695 China (including Hong Kong)
  • 740-745 Central America
  • 750 Mexico
  • 885 Thailand
  • 893 Vietnam

Consumers need to be aware that China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam have no food inspection regulations. Thus there is no guarantee food manufactured in these countries is safe.

For more country codes go to EAN codes

photo credit: jDevaun via photopin cc