Marc Paquette, Weights and Measures Specialist, Consumer Protection
March 1-7 is National Weights and Measures Week, a time to recognize the important role of weights and measures inspectors 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 Chief, Weights and Measures Specialist/Metrologist, and six field inspectors, many of whom are cross trained to conduct other types of inspection work as well.
The Metrologist manages the program’s laboratory. 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 in regard to 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.
The inspections conducted by field staff provide equity in the marketplace and consumer protection by testing and inspecting commercial devices used in trade. 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.
A top priority of the section is responding to consumer concerns. During the last year many concerns have been addressed such as: short measure on gas pumps, oil truck meters, beer, firewood, and wine as well as issues regarding retail pricing accuracy and fuel quality.
Today, quantities are determined in all business sectors using the latest technology. Gasoline stations and supermarkets employ state of the art weighing and measuring equipment. Inspectors need to have an understanding of software in the documentation, inspection, and investigation process. Some challenges that many jurisdictions, including Vermont, will be facing is that of alternative fuels. Evolving fuel and energy sources such as ethanol, biodiesel, bio butanol, natural gas, hydrogen, and electrical recharging for motor vehicles and developing inspection processes for these fuels will require new testing methods and added training.
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