Shoppers weigh up metric revolution

LIZ SEARL

Pounds and ounces head for official oblivion tomorrow, as metrication takes over in Britain's supermarkets.

The British Weights and Measurements Association yesterday urged the public to mount a "massive campaign of resistance to the change". Andshoppers are to stage protests at a west London branch of Sainsbury's because the store chain adopted the new metrication rules four months ago.

A pounds 1m training programme has ensured staff are fluent in imperial and metric-speak, and its delicatessen counters will comply with the new metric weighing and pricing arrangement immediately. By law, shops do not have to use metric measurements for loose products until 2000.

The National Consumer Council cannot see the point of the protests. "We don't think metrication will affect people at all," said its spokesman, Louis High.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry, 80 per cent of common grocery goods already comply with the new regulations, which do not require imperial measurements to disappear. Metric weights simply have to be the predominant figures on the label.

The Federation of Small Businesses believes only the elderly will be confused but that shopkeepers will suffer.

"Shopkeepers will have to update their equipment to keep up with the new legislation and if they don't, then they risk being fined up to pounds 5,000," a spokesman said. "If a small business was to get its act together, for example, to get new scales in, order leaflets and train up its staff to deal with metrication, then you are looking at a sum of pounds 3,000, which many shopkeepers can ill-afford to pay."

Until the new EU law was introduced, only fixed weight pre-packed items such as bags of sugar had to carry a predominant metric weight description.

From Sunday, retailers must ensure that all "catch-weight" pre-packed foods such as bags of apples are in metric measures.

But the DTI disputes allegations that small shops have been put under great financial strain by the metrication law.

Fran Atkins, spokeswoman for the department, said: "I don't think that smaller shops will be doing a lot towards metrication day, unless they package their own goods."

She agreed that some garages with old pumps had been forced to close because they could not afford new ones, but said: "This move is a 1989 directive that the industry has known about for six years. Loose produce is not included in the regulation until the end of the century. This means that shopkeepers will have actually had 11 years to prepare for metrication."

Alba Capozzi, who runs Kitsbury Stores in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, agreed that nothing would change for her under the new regulations. "We haven't changed anything yet, and I don't think that I will have to. We sell all our fruit and vegetables loose, so they are not affected yet. I think it is a matter of adapting." But British pub-goers were less happy at the thought of losing the traditional pint of shandy. The EC rules that as a soft drink it cannot be described as a pint. However, landlords are expected to advertise shandy in small or large glasses, which will be half-pint and pint glasses.

Brian Finnerty, of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, said that he did not expect the new system to cause a problem: "It's fair to say that the industry is already used to metric measurements. There were no difficulties when spirit measures were changed in January this year, and things went well. It is just when people see someone trying to mess with their beloved pint that you get complaints. After all, it is one of the few remaining great British traditions that should be protected."

t Anyone confused about the changes should contact the Department of Trade and Industry on 0171 510 0174 for a leaflet and ready reckoner.

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