DTI claim that removing supplementary indications will be a barrier to trade

Britain’s department for trade and industry (DTI) has recently published a letter advocating continued derogation on using supplementary indications.

[Article by Roddy Urquhart]

Continue reading “DTI claim that removing supplementary indications will be a barrier to trade”

Will the new metric clothing standard work?

A new international standard for sizing clothes would overcome many of the problems of incompatible size labelling. But will it be undermined by the British retail and clothing industries because it is metric? – article based on contribution by M-V.

During the last few days there have been various newspaper articles describing proposed new labelling for clothing. This labelling is in fact the EN 13402 European standard for labelling clothing sizes and is expected to come into widespread use by the end of 2007. The work was sponsored by CEN (European Standards Organisation – an organisation that draws its membership from various European bodies), while much of the fieldwork was done by the BSI (British Standards Institute). The photograph below (by Markus Kuhn and downloaded from the Wikipedia site) shows an actual label used for a high-visibility jacket.

This example shows that the garment is designed to fit a man with a chest measurement of 118 to 124 cm and a height of up to 1.94 m.

The standard works as follows.
(Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EN_13402
has a full description – also written by Markus Kuhn). Firstly, it should be remembered that measurements on the garments refers to the wearer, not to the garment itself. Thus the chest measurement on a vest label and on an overcoat label for a particular person have the same value.

The standard comes in four parts:

  • EN 13402-1 defines how the body should be measured (using centimetres and kilograms where appropriate). For example, the length of the hand girth is measured “maximum girth measured over the knuckles (metacarpals) of the open right hand, fingers together and thumb excluded”. This results in a pictogram (diagrammatic picture) of the individual customer – as illustrated below:

Ideally, everybody should have a little card bearing this pictogram, and they can use this whenever they go shopping for clothes (or borrow their partner’s if they are shopping for them!) Enterprising clothing retailers might offer a free measurement and card-issuing service.

  • EN 13402-2 defines the primary and optional secondary measurements for various garments. For example, the primary measurement for men’s trousers is the waist girth, while the wearer’s height and inside leg length are optional additional measurements. The author has spotted one omission is the list of garments â?? there is nothing about men’s kilts, though manufacturers might use the same parameters as are used for women’s skirts.
  • EN 13402-3 defines the standard interval sizes for various measurements. For example men’s chest sizes will be in 4 cm intervals and a 100 cm chest would be suitable for men with chests between 98 cm and 102 cm.
  • EN 13402-4 defines a five character manufactures coding system.

If UK retailers adopt the system (it is optional), then there will be a big change – conversion of the sizes of existing clothing lines will be difficult because the traditional British interval for men’s chests (for example) is 2 in, not 4 cm. This will mean that manufacturers will have to offer the public a wider range of measurements to accommodate the smaller interval. Unless there is some coordination, one can see chaos on the high street if one retailer or manufacturer uses the EN 13402 while another sticks to traditional sizing.

Fixed package sizes to remain for 5 years – EU compromise

The European Commission has proposed a compromise which would effectively retain fixed sizes for a limited number of prepackaged goods until 2013 or 2014. [article originally drafted by Robin Paice for UKMA News]

In 2005 the European Commission published a proposal which would have deregulated package sizes (aka “prescribed quantities” or “PQs”) for most goods, with the exception of wine and spirits, sugar and instant coffee. This proposal would have ended the nonsense whereby jam packed in the UK must be sold in the UK in multiples of 57 g (e.g. jars of 454 g), whereas jam imported from France may be sold in jars of 400 g or 500 g.

However, in February 2006, led by Conservative MEPs, and egged on by British tabloid newspapers, the European Parliament proposed a series of amendments which would have retained a range of fixed sizes for a variety of goods – notably the venerable “pint” of milk. The same newspapers portrayed this vote as a defeat for the Brussels Bureaucrats’ attempts to abolish the good old British pint – although actually the Commission’s proposals posed no threat to the pint.

Following a series of negotiations involving the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, a compromise has emerged which would achieve the Commission’s original intention of general deregulation (with limited exceptions) but with a delay of 5 years for milk, butter, pasta and coffee, and six years for sugar. It now appears that this revised proposal will be adopted by the three legislative institutions of the EU. For full details see http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2006/com2006_0811en01.pdf

One of the Commission’s arguments for abolishing fixed sizes was that “unit pricing” (per kg, L, etc) enables consumers to compare value for money, and therefore fixed sizes are unnecessary. Unfortunately, neither the Commission nor the UK Government has attempted to explain or popularise the little understood concept of unit pricing – the small print which appears at the bottom of price labels. So whether the consumer will be well served by this decision is debatable.

In the meantime, the UK Government is now faced with a dilemma. In 2005 it proposed that the various Food Orders (as they are called), which regulate the sizes of packages which may be manufactured and sold in the UK, should be consolidated into a single Order – albeit without changing the content of the Orders. (These are the Orders which determine that, for example, jam must be sold in multiples of 57 g but instant coffee in multiples of 50 g).

Assuming that the Commission’s proposals come into force in 2008, and that the Food Orders also could not be revised until the same year, the revised Orders would only be in force for a maximum of five years – and only for the limited range of products listed above. This may not be enough to warrant the expense of churning out the necessary secondary legislation and occupying scarce Parliamentary time.

What about the pint of beer?

There remains, however, one minor but iconically important issue raised by the DTI in its consultation paper but not covered by the Commission’s proposal: the pint of beer. UKMA had proposed that draught beer and cider should be permitted (not required) to be dispensed in metric quantities, as long as the price per litre was displayed. As this would be an additional option and not a new and onerous regulation, there should be no problem about introducing this measure immediately.

In its response in September 2005, the DTI simply commented: “We will consider the options for revision of specified quantities for alcoholic drinks …., taking into account comments received.”

Market Stall holders trading illegally

Some fruit and vegetable sellers around the UK are failing to comply with metric trading regulations. [article contributed by PB]

Two examples of this failure are the markets in Redditch town centre and the Portobello Road in London.

Despite several requests to Trading Standards Officers, they are not enforcing the regulations.

The law requires that items sold by weight must have a metric price shown. If an imperial price is shown the imperial price must not be more prominent than the metric price.

The Prime Minister has been made aware of this problem.

Consumer watchdog misses metric opportunity

BBC Radio 4 has missed a golden opportunity to to do some real consumer education and help shoppers to obtain value for money by understanding and using “unit pricing” – i.e. prices per kg, litre, metre, etc.

On Thursday, 14 December, BBC Radio 4’s flagship “You and Yours” programme dealt with a recent report by the National Consumer Council (NCC) on public perceptions of Weights and Measures law, including an interview with its Deputy Chief Executive, Philip Cullum, who was joint author of the report.

The report, “Measuring up”, suggests that fixed sizes for packets and cartons are unnecessary, and consumers would not miss them if they were abolished. For example, jam and honey have to be packaged in the UK in multiples of 57 g (equivalent to 2 imperial ounces), so the more logical 400 g or 500 g sizes are banned from shops (unless they are imported!). The researchers found that most packers and consumers would be happy to see these restrictions abolished (as, incidentally, proposed by the European Commission).

However, what the BBC programme failed to say was that, if fixed sizes (or “prescribed quantities” (PQs) as they are known in the jargon) are abolished, then it is essential that consumers have another method of comparing value for money. For example, if you haven’t got a pocket calculator with you, how would you compare, say, a 454 g jar of honey at £1.78 with a 600 g jar at £2.30? The answer, of course, is “unit pricing” – that is, the obligation to show the price per kg or litre (or 100 g or 100 ml as appropriate) on the shelf label.

Unit pricing not understood and little used

Unfortunately, as the researchers showed, fully two thirds of consumers participating in the discussion groups either did not understand or did not use the unit prices in small print at the bottom of price labels. Moreover, only larger supermarkets and superstores (over 280 m² floorspace) are required to provide this information. The result is that most consumers will have no way of deciding which jar of honey is better value for money (leaving aside questions of quality).

If PQs are to be abolished (which they probably will because the EU will ultimately make the decision), then it will be the responsibility of the Government and consumer organisations to publicise and explain unit pricing so that consumers are better equipped to deal with all the ruses employed by manufacturers, packers and retailers to conceal the true cost of what they are selling. The Government should also reconsider whether the 280 m² floorspace limit is far too high (It may be onerous for a small corner shop – less than 100 m² – to have to unit price every item, but there is no reason why medium sized high street shops belonging to national chains should be exempt).

No mention of the metric/imperial muddle

Of equal concern is the fact that the NCC report carefully avoided raising what is perhaps an even greater problem – the continuing failure of the authorities to enforce the unit pricing of “loose goods” (i.e goods sold to order from bulk and not pre-packed – such as vegetables, meat and fish). Thus, six years after it became compulsory to show the price per kg or litre, many small businesses and market traders still display prices exclusively in obsolete imperial measures such as “lbs”, “st” or “fl oz”, and many local authorities appear to turn a blind eye. This obviously makes it difficult to compare prices and hence value for money as between the street market and the supermarket.

The BBC’s mission statement is “to inform, educate and entertain”. The “You and Yours” programme makers may have thought it entertaining to ridicule the soft target of the current PQ rules, but they failed in their responsibility to inform or educate the consumer.