No return to pounds and ounces

Today’s announcement by the European Commission that it is to propose that “supplementary indications” (such as lbs and oz) should be allowed indefinitely does NOT mean that traders can go back to weighing and pricing in imperial measures – so says the UK Metric Association (UKMA). [Press release issued on 11 September.]

In fact it will be business as usual. Just as they do now, traders will have to weigh or measure goods in metric units (kilograms, litres or metres) at the checkout and also display prices in metric units – with the option of a supplementary indication in non-metric units.

UKMA Chairman, Robin Paice, commented: “While we regret this proposal to prolong the current muddle of metric and imperial units, it will only delay but not stop the inevitable move toward all-metric shopping. Many of the big supermarkets have already stopped giving obsolete imperial prices, and we expect this trend to continue. There is no question of going backwards.”


The current EU Directive (80/181/EEC) requires that supplementary indications must be phased out after 31 December 2009 and that the UK must “fix a date” for changing to metric road signs and speed limits. However, the Commission is expected to propose that this deadline should be lifted and that the UK can keep imperial road signs for as long as it wants. This proposed amendment to the Directive will have to be considered by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and then translated into UK law.

The Commission’s proposal follows a consultation in which many American and European exporters asked that the permission to use supplementary indications should be continued. Their reasoning was that the USA requires dual metric/US customary (not the same as imperial) marking whereas the EU would have required metric-only. Thus packers would have required two different packages for the two markets, and this was claimed to be a significant business cost.

However, UKMA has argued that, even if it is a significant cost, there is no need to allow supplementary indications on packaged goods produced and sold within the EU, and there is particularly no need to allow supplementary indications on goods sold loose in shops and markets. The derogation (exception) could have been limited to goods imported from or exported to a non-metric country –  i.e. the USA. “Why should the refusal of the Americans to accept the world system condemn the British to endure indefinitely the misery and muddle of incompatible weights and measures in shops and markets.” asks Robin Paice. “It undermines consumer protection (one of the Commission’s claimed new stated objectives) wastes our children’s education, and just prolongs this ‘very British mess’.”

Unfortunately, the Commission placed more weight on the lobbying of powerful business interests. Moreover, the UK Government, while paying lip service to metrication, has effectively called a halt to the completion of the changeover, and it is thought that they would have tried to resist the phasing out of imperial measures in 2009. Sources within the Commission have indicated that it wished to avoid a confrontation with the UK Government.

Further comment

Robin Paice added: “Although this decision is disappointing, it does have a silver lining. Hitherto all discussion of the metric system has been bedevilled and distracted by the European issue. But if the EU is withdrawing from its involvement in weights and measures, it means that we can argue the case for completing metrication without having to refute silly arguments about Brussels Bureaucrats.”

“Every country needs a system of weights and measures that everybody understand and uses for all purposes. Nobody needs two systems. Completing metrication is in the British national interest, and it is time that the UK Government acknowledged this and showed a bit of leadership.”

7 thoughts on “No return to pounds and ounces”

  1. I was born in 1960, I complete all my education in metric and find that my children are having to learn both – it is daft. Continue with eradication of imperial measures.


  2. While it’s certainly by no means perfect, the European Union has always acted as a way for all of the countries in our neighbourhood (ie, Europe) to strive to become better by acting together rather than in isolation (with all of the problems that that can cause, as our past reminds us), so it is disappointing that the European Commission has decided to give up on the UK as regards measurement.

    While Commissioner Verheugen may consider imperial measurements a delightfully quaint jolly jape to encounter when on holiday for a few weeks, he obviously doesn’t realise the confusion that they cause when they continue to butt in to a mostly-metric measurement system every single day, all year round.

    However, now that the EU angle is out of the way and the Europhobes must find something else to hate about their neighbours (the rest of us generally get on just fine together, by the way), maybe this means that the UK Government can now move forward and finish going metric properly without further irrelevant distractions.

    It is clear from feedback on other media websites as regards this issue that the majority view is that we have wasted too much time already dragging this out, as shown by many parents’ concern that their children’s (and often their own) education is not able to be put to use. While most of us may love our beer, in whatever quantity it is served, we should certainly now finish the job for all other aspects of measurement.


  3. Given that the UK government seem to be in favour of supplementary (imperial) indications and believe they should be retained, why isn’t the case being made for the conversion of road signs to metric (with supplementary indications in imperial measurements)? Notwithstanding the fact that this is not what UKMA ideally would want, it might challenge the true reasoning behind the lobbying, namely the UK Govt fears of the anti-metric lobby, and higher-minded principles do not enter into it.


  4. It would be better if the EU would roll back all legislation on metrication in Britain. This would leave us free to implement a single measurement system for all purposes, and put an end to the ridiculous dual system mess we’ve been in for the last 40 odd years.

    If you look at the options of either undoing the metrication so far, or completing the metrication programme, I think that there would be a clear and obvious route. The current mess of two systems needs to be discounted first, before that choice becomes clear.


  5. The big problem at the moment is that market traders across the UK have taken what’s printed on the front pages of the national press and are reverting back to selling in lb and oz and I half expected my local Tesco to be going down the same path!

    We really need the DTI to make it clear what the rules are and what will and won’t be changing in the future… and we as consumers need to put pressure on our local Trading Standards offices to clamp down on this before it becomes too commonplace!


  6. The Trading Standards Institute issued the following statement in response to the recent announcement from the European Commission …

    “Media Statement: No Change in Metrication Law

    13 September 2007

    The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) has today clarified the current legal position relating to the sale of produce by metric measure.

    Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, said: ‘There is a great deal of confusion around the recent statement from the European Commission in connection with the legal use of metric measures.

    ‘The legal position has not changed – pre-packed goods and goods sold loose from bulk, such as fruit and vegetables, are still required to be sold in metric quantities and weighing scales must be calibrated in metric units of measurement. Suggestions that goods can now be sold in pounds and ounces are incorrect.

    ‘The only change – which has come about as a result of the EU ruling – is that goods can continue to be labelled with both metric and imperial quantities and with dual price per weight indications, indefinitely. Prior to this recent ruling, dual marking was due to end in 2009.

    ‘Of course a shopper can ask for a pound of apples or half a pound of mince meat, but the retailer must weigh in metric and sell the metric equivalent.

    ‘Countable products, for example apples and pears, do not have to be sold by weight, but if a trader chooses to sell by weight it has to be a metric measure.
    ‘So far as the pint is concerned, again there is no practical change. The UK had a time-limited exemption to use the pint for sales of beer, cider and milk but this exemption will now continue indefinitely.

    ‘Retailers can, as always, seek guidance from their local authority trading standards service who are responsible for enforcing the law on weights and measures.

    ‘Consumers can get advice from Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06.’

    For more information contact TSI Press Office on 0845 608 9430 “


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