Raising the bar code

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 March, 2009, 12:00am

Melamine became part of the local lexicon last year when baby milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical gave many mainland babies and toddlers kidney stones. The scandal exposed loopholes in food safety on the mainland and put a state-run dairy company chief in prison for life. Twenty-two dairy farms were found to have used the toxic ingredient as an additive to substandard milk products.

That and other incidents, such as the recent scare in children's cold medicines and deaths from mouldy pills, have left consumers anxious to get more accurate information on product quality and safety. And they soon will.

The bar code, which represents product data and is printed on the packaging of most merchandise, is at the core of a unique online service that will debut in Hong Kong in the third quarter. BarcodePlus is a portal that will give free access - including through dedicated kiosks at supermarkets - to product safety and quality-related information. By entering the bar code number (all bar codes have a series of digits beneath them) of an item, data including origin, ingredients, certification, testing reports and shelf life will be displayed.

'Our initial focus will be on food and health supplements because these make up about 20 per cent of the more than a million products we have data on,' says Anna Lin, chief executive at GS1 Hong Kong, the sole local authority issuing bar code and article number identification.

GS1 does not yet have testing reports and other data for all its items, it is gathering as much relevant information as it can from the city's major product testing and certification bodies, including Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency, CMA Testing, Hong Kong Standards and Testing Centre and SGS Hong Kong.

To best provide consumers with the information the require, BarcodePlus is in constant dialogue with the Consumer Council and the government.

Consumer electronic goods and over-the-counter medicines are among the products that are expected to be eventually covered by the service.

Visit www.gs1hk.org for more information.