Posted by: secretperson | October 9, 2008

You Can’t Sell Fruit in a Bowl

A new Metric Martyrs case has arisen. London market trader Janet Devers has been convicted by a magistrates court of various offences including using unlicensed scales, following a guilty charge for selling things by the bowl last September (full story at the Beeb).

Now I can kind of understand the scales thing. It makes a certain amount of sense that scales should be checked to be accurate, although these scales, however accurate would not have been acceptable as they weighed only in imperial. Mrs Devers believes she is being singled out amongst market traders because her brother was one of the original Metric Martyrs. That seems believable. It is also clear that by opting for a jury trial (to follow on different offences at a later date) Mrs Devers is choosing to make a stand and get publicity when by the letter of the law she is very likely guilty. However in this magistrates case she was given a conditional discharge rather than a penalty, suggesting some sympathy for her case.

This whole thing seems ridiculous. I still don’t understand why government needs to regulate units so tightly. The EU, often blamed for this, has even come out and said we can continue to use certain imperial units, and that laws weren’t intended to affect market traders. No it is our own petty bureaucrats who have taken up the metric baton and used it to beat people giving customers what they want.

But surely the silliest thing here is the prosecution for selling by the bowl. Selling by an unknown weight may be misleading (though I would always say buyer beware if you don’t know the units you are buying in), but selling in a bowl makes no claims at all. It is completely up to the customer whether they think they are getting a good deal, they can see what they are getting, why not trust them to know?

Whatever happened to common sense?

There is a ‘related stories’ link from the BBC page to a metric/imperial Q&A which explains the situation a bit. It does however also contain some mistakes, such as claiming the UK joined the EU in 1973 (it was of course the European Economic Community, or Common Market that we joined, the EU arrived in 1993). And it says:

Why has Britain been reluctant to change?

It’s a cultural thing. As Mr Verheugen says: “People in the UK, and indeed throughout the EU, love the traditions that make Britain unique.”

But another factor is that 500g is more than a pound, a litre is more than a pint, and a square metre is more than a square yard… Metrication tends to make prices look as though they are rising.

Really? I don’t believe anyone objecting thinks prices will rise. Why compare half a kilogram to a pound, but a full litre to a pint? A pint is slightly more than a half-litre and using this sensible comparison it undermines this whole argument. Strange that an EU commissioner would understand Britain better than the BBC!

In the end it all comes down to common sense. As the Metric Martyr’s say:

one of the 9 charges [is that Mrs Devers] “sold 7 peppers in a bowl for a quid” without telling the customer the number the bowl contained. That is a criminal offence but it isn’t a crime for a supermarket to sell a single pepper for 79p!

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