This article looks back to the findings and recommendations of the 1895 Parliamentary Select Committee on weights and measures.
On EU product labels, metric units are mandatory whereas non-metric units are optional. On US product labels, both metric and US customary (USC) units are mandatory for most products. So a company that wants to sell a product in the EU and the US must use metric and USC on the label unless it produces separate labels for the two markets.
A key point of President Obama’s State of the Union address on 13 February was the proposed EU-US trade agreement, which has been under preliminary discussion for the past year. (See http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/13/state-of-the-union-free-trade-europe). As this agreement is supposed to remove regulatory barriers to trade, there should now be a serious opportunity to remove the US ban on metric-only labelling of most packages.
The question of adopting metric measures in the UK is not a new proposition; in 1862 Parliament’s Select Committee on Weights and Measures considered the matter and came down firmly in favour of metrication. A century and a half later, we are still waiting for the government to finally complete the job. The full report can be read here. A summary follows: