Testing 1,000 lb. weights in the Weights & Measures Metrology Laboratory.
By Marc Paquette - Agency of Agriculture
March 1-7 is National Weights and Measures Week, a time to recognize the important role of weights and measures regulatory programs across the country.
The date of this year’s Weights and Measures Week is significant as it marks the signing of the first Weights and Measures law by John Adams on March 2, 1799. Throughout the country, thousands of weights and measures inspectors work diligently to enforce laws designed to not only protect consumers but to also develop a level playing field in commerce wherever a weight or measure is involved.
Vermont’s Weights and Measures program is located in the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Market’s Consumer Protection Section. Many consumers are surprised to learn that weights and measures programs are part of many agencies of agriculture nationwide. This is true of Vermont, where much of the state’s early economy was based on agricultural products produced on tens of thousands of farms. Historically, commodities produced in Vermont like milk, meat, grains, feed, corn, and maple were sold by weight or measure, therefore the inspection program was placed in the Agency of Agriculture.
Vermont’s program consists of a Weights & Measures Metrology lab managed by a Metrologist and a corresponding field inspection component. The metrology lab maintains the state’s weights and measures standards, conducts calibrations on weighing and measuring artifacts, and advises both the program staff and private industry regarding weights and measures laws, regulations, and best practices. Each year the laboratory tests thousands of hydrometers utilized by the maple industry, weights ranging in size from 1,000 lbs. to 0.001 lb. and numerous test measures used in the inspection and calibration of thousands of fuel pumps.
Mike Larose testing a vehicle scale using the heady duty scale test truck and weights.
The inspections conducted by field staff provide equity in the marketplace and consumer protection by testing and inspecting commercial devices used in commerce. Each year the Vermont program inspects over 6,000 gas pumps, 425 fuel oil truck meters, 225 propane truck meters, thousands of scales and packages. Inspectors conduct hundreds of price verification inspections, testing the accuracy of laser scanning systems in retail outlets. This work promotes consumer protection by ensuring that these devices are accurate and correct and by also monitoring pricing integrity and weighing and measuring practices where commercial transactions occur.
A top priority of the section is responding to consumer concerns. Frequently addressed questions from consumers are: short measure on gas pumps, oil truck meters, beer, and firewood, as well as issues regarding retail pricing accuracy and fuel quality.
The National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) has announced that this year’s theme is
Back to the Basics as we Arrive in the Cloud. The theme expresses the dynamic challenges faced by regulatory jurisdictions across the country. Gasoline stations and supermarkets employ state of the art weighing and measuring equipment. Inspectors need to understand software in the documentation, inspection, and investigation process. Technology is changing so rapidly that inspection staff are often playing catch up to significant changes in how commerce takes place. Discounts can now be taken at gas stations using I-Phones, transportation systems such as UBER now employ GPS based measurement systems that charge consumers not based on a traditional physical taxi meter but from sources not physically connected to the vehicle. Theft at the gas pump is now taking place by the use of skimmers that are illegally installed in the pump and steal consumers credit and debit card information.
Weights and Measures jurisdictions often face many unique challenges. In the future, one issue that could potentially affect the state of Vermont Weights and Measures program is that of the sale of recreational Cannabis. Due to the high unit price of cannabis special requirements would need to take place. Issues of appropriate higher-class scales, higher level of test weights, package and labeling, method of sale, and moisture loss are all issues that other states have had to define in implementing a cannabis inspection program.
Weights and Measures Week serves as a reminder of the great value consumers receive from weights and measures inspection programs. The Consumer Protection Section works to both regulate and educate the businesses they inspect. When violations are found, appropriate enforcement action is taken. Repeated violations may result in penalties being issued. A list of findings can now be found on the Vermont Agency of Agriculture website at: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/food_safety_consumer_protection/consumer_protection/violations
For more information about the Agency of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures program, contact Marc Paquette, Weights and Measures Specialist, Consumer Protection at 802-828-2426
Equipment used for checking packages for accurate weight in grocery stores.