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BWMA position on EC "metric-only" Directive 80/181

(24 August 2006)

Article 3a of EC Directive 80/181, amended by Directive 1999/103/EC, states that authorisation of non-metric indications alongside metric for "economic, public health, public safety or administrative" purposes will cease from 1 January 2010. Non-metric expressions are referred to by the European Commission as "supplementary indications", and sometimes in the United States as "dual labeling". dual labelling

In plain English, the European Commission says the expression of non-metric terms will not be permitted for any economic, administrative, health or safety purposes from January 2010, in any type of media, including the following:

  • product packaging and labels
  • manuals and instructions
  • internet sites
  • e-commerce
  • books and magazines

There are many practical problems arising from this ban, including export, safety, health and consumer information matters. Although BWMA regards these concerns as very important, we believe these points are most appropriately made by the affected industries.

BWMA concerns

The issue that BWMA raises is that the debate about supplementary indications is seen by the EC as "metric versus non-metric". This perspective is misplaced, since supplementary indications do not constitute an alternative to metric, but an addition.

Under Directive 80/181, only metric units are authorised for the above purposes. Non-metric units ceased to be authorised in October 1995 and have since existed outside the EU's legally recognised set of weights and measures. Therefore, the perceived grounds for de-authorising them again in 2010 are anomalous, since units cannot be de-authorised twice. Supplementary indications constitute additional information only, and do not form part of any transaction or contract in EU weights and measures law.

Prevention of supplementary non-metric expression is therefore not only unnecessary for accomplishing a single measurement system, but invasive, since it prevents the private provision of information alongside the legal requirement. BWMA believes that any perception of supplementary indications as an alternative to metric should be replaced with an appreciation of the right of parties to express information freely, in addition to the legal minimum.

EC concerns

BWMA is aware of two specific concerns expressed by the EC over non-metric indications. One is that EU workers and consumers may not understand them. This concern is already addressed by making metric mandatory; no further solution is necessary.

Second, the EC has expressed concern that the US requires the use of non-metric units, thereby requiring EU firms to display them also. However, US law requires metric as well as US customary. This has been the case since 1994, meaning that metric labelling is obligatory on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether US law requires customary units alongside metric is not a matter that should be of concern to the EC, since all countries have information requirements (indications of content, date of production, etc). That the US requires non-metric as well as metric should be regarded in the same light and as an internal matter for its own citizens. Whether US units 'spill-over' into the EU marketplace is immaterial since EU law does not recognise them for the specified purposes.

BWMA conclusion

Eliminating the option of displaying supplementary indications is not necessary to achieve the Commission's goal of metric-only use. This arrangement already exists in law, and has done so since October 1995.

Preserving the option of supplementary indications ensures that businesses and organisations retain the flexibility to express additional information as required. It should not matter why information is provided; it is the right to do so that should be respected.

Preserving the option also demonstrates awareness of the cultural importance of traditional units. People should not be fearful of infringing a law simply for referring to them alongside metric.

Click here for Word document of BWMA's submission to EC

Businesses and health & safety organisations that are concerned about this Directive should contact BWMA. Email will ensure the quickest response.

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