Britain’s department for trade and industry (DTI) has recently published a letter advocating continued derogation on using supplementary indications.
[Article by Roddy Urquhart]
The reason for doing so is stated to be “The Government believes that the removal of the permission to use supplementary indications after 2009 could create a barrier to trade and increase costs for UK businesses wishing to export to the US”. Furthermore they state that “the Government intends to support the continued use of supplementary indications after 2009 for an indefinite period”.
But are supplementary indications really so vital for trade with the US?
As a lover of hot spicy food, I regularly purchase chilli sauces. Tabasco sauce is not only a very successful product in the United States but is successfully exported to Europe. I have seen it in restaurants from Penzance to Helsinki. However, Tabasco sauce demonstrates that supplementary indications are not necessary for trade. Consider the photos below…
On the left is a bottle of Tabasco sauce produced by McIlhenny Co. of Avery Island, Louisiana. This bottle is 12 (US) fluid ounces (355 ml) and was purchased in a supermarket in Austin, Texas in June 2006.
On the right is a bottle of Tabasco sauce produced by McIlhenny Co. of Avery Island, Louisiana. This bottle is 350 ml and was purchased in a cash and carry in Reading, Berkshire 2006.
Although the amounts involved (355 ml and 350 ml) vary by a mere 5 millilitres, McIlhenny apparently has no problem producing one bottle for the US market and another for the European one. There would have been nothing to stop them using the same bottle and filling to slightly different levels. In this case if supplementary indications were phased out there is clearly no threat to the business as metric only labelling is used today.
The Government’s recommendation is for a blanket and indefinite authorisation of supplementary indications. This would be very bad for the British consumer. Weak regulation already means that mixtures of metric and imperial units in the retail sector can confuse consumers. The DTI proposal would permit this muddle to carry on indefinitely. If there are cases where supplementary indications really are needed, then they should be permitted only in very exceptional cases and where a case is proven that transatlantic trade would be adversely affected. I am sure that in the vast majority of cases this would not be the case.