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Metric Culprits

EC proposals regarding metric Directive 80/181 12 September 2007

In a nutshell, the European Commission proposes two main changes:

(i) To allow the display of "supplementary indications" (non-metric conversions) alongside metric. This lifts the ban on non-metric equivalents that would otherwise have taken effect in January 2010

(ii) To allow indefinite use of imperial units for three purposes in the UK and Ireland: draught alcohol (i.e. the pub pint), milk bottles (the "pinta"), and road signs.

What it means - Proposal (i) does not mean that imperial units can be used in their own right. Under the Directive, metric must be used for all purposes, as this is the only expression of measurement information recognised by EU law. The effect of (i) is that individuals and organisations may privately give an equivalent in non-metric terms, alongside the required metric indication.

Proposal (ii) lists thoses uses for which imperial units may be used in their own right, that is, without metric being part of the transaction. Thus, a pub may legally sell draught beer by the pint; they may not, however, sell draught lemonade by the pint, or canned beer as a pint, since these latter two uses are not exempt.

Therefore, EC statements need to be read carefully. For example, Commissioner Günter Verheugen states:

"After an extensive EU-wide consultation exercise including the Great British public ... we're delighted the results have confirmed what we always knew to be the case: there is no problem whatsoever with Brits drinking in pint glasses, operating in miles, or using pounds and ounces alongside their metric equivalent".

Mr Veheugen refers to pint glasses and miles, which are exempt, but to pounds and ounces only in so far as they must appear beside metric. Thus, he is acknowledging that pounds and ounces are unlawful - but in such a way that might be interpreted that they are not.

The EC's proposal and press releases may be read here (direct links to EC site):




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