Inches and Pounds
March 4, 2011
It's National Weights and Measures Week, for which Monterey County celebrates the weights and measures staff that protects consumer products by conducting thousands of inspections every year.
The four full time inspectors traverse the county, evaluating “every kind of device involved in commercial transactions," says Bob Roach, Assistant Agricultural Commissioner and Assistant Sealer of Weights and Measures for Monterey County. From taxi meters to gas pumps to grocery scales, weights and measures inspectors verify that consumers aren't being misled or ripped off.
“People take it for granted that they’re getting a fair shake in the marketplace, and when they buy a pound of meat it’s actually a pound of meat, or a gallon of gas is actually a gallon of gas. If you didn’t have a program to verify these things, I’m sure it would slip," says Roach.
When inspectors find scales or counts amiss--which happens less than 10 percent of the time, says Roach--sometimes hundreds of thousands of consumers are effected. In one recent class-action lawsuir, after discovering 19 1/2-inch TV screens were being misleadingly marketed as 20-inch screens, consumers received "a multimillion dollar settlement," says Roach.
“Illegal business practices, like short filling of cleaning products or failing to properly program electronic scanners to accurately record advertised prices, can cumulatively cost California consumers millions of dollars every year,” said District Attorney Dean Flippo in a statement.
With an annual budget of about $570,000, the county estimates it spends about 70 cents per person to inspect weights and measures every year.
Such inspections are a long-time feature of consumer protection; John Adams signed the first weights and measures law in the US in 1799. Roach says such laws are as old as civilization, with the first documented rules included in Hammurabi's Code (circa 1780 BCE).