Consumers get a good return on investment with ODA inspection activities
Oregon consumers and businesses both benefit when someone looks at the thousands of weighing and measuring devices used in commerce every day. That’s the job of the 20 inspectors with the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures Program
who ensure fairness in the marketplace statewide. National Weights and Measures Week, March 1-7, is an opportunity for the public to become more aware of that consumer protection. This year's theme for the week is "Common Cents", a reference to the incredible payback consumers receive for the funding of weights and measures regulatory agencies, like ODA.
“Weights and measures enforcement has been a fundamental role of civilized governments for 5,000 years,” says Stephen Benjamin, chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures
. “Accuracy in commerce serves the common interest of every person and every business owner, and it comes at a very affordable cost to taxpayers, often just pennies per year. This is why I like to say that weights and measures enforcement makes common cents.”
Costs for weights and measures enforcement can vary significantly from one state to another. But, on average, it costs each resident only about 70 cents per year for this fundamental regulatory presence in the marketplace. Benjamin points out that you can lose more than that on a single package of short-weight ground beef or a few gallons of mis-measured gasoline.
“Each year in Oregon, as much as $97 billion of goods make their way across more than 54,000 weighing and measuring devices that we license and test for accuracy,” says Jason Barber, director of ODA’s Internal Services and Consumer Protection programs. “In many cases, more than half a family’s income is spent on items sold by weight, measure, or count.”
On March 2, 1799, President John Adams signed the nation’s first weights and measures law. It may surprise consumers that weights and measures programs are part of departments of agriculture. Historically, commodities like wheat, corn, and cattle were sold by weight or measure, so inspection programs were placed with other regulatory agricultural programs. Today, many items in commercial transactions are non-agricultural, but the inspection programs remain in state agriculture departments.
The devices used in commercial transactions have become incredibly sophisticated, but highly trained inspectors are able to offer expertise ranging from software security to motor fuel chemistry. The systematic efforts of ODA’s inspectors maintain a great amount of trust in the marketplace.
“It’s not uncommon for our inspectors to get thanked in the grocery store or at the gas station by the public and by businesses,” says Barber. “But I’m sure a lot of people would be amazed to find out that someone is out there doing the inspection in the first place to essentially prevent consumer fraud.”
Purchases at grocery stores rely on accurate check stand scales. ODA inspectors annually check approximately 17,000 scales in Oregon that weigh produce, meat, seafood, and many other items. ODA also tests gas pump meters and administers the motor fuel quality program.
“There are more than 28,000 motor fuel dispensers in the state, and we will check the majority of them over 12 months and test for accuracy,” says Barber. “When people go to the pump, they can rest assured that, in most cases, if they pay for 10 or 20 gallons of fuel, they will actually get that amount.”
ODA’s experience is that most devices operate correctly. Occasionally, some may need adjustment, but the large majority of retailers in Oregon are selling an accurate measure of goods.
When there are problems, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the consumer.
“In many instances, the business may be giving away too much product.” Says Barber. “You can imagine that after we test 36 fuel dispensers at a retail gas station, and the owner finds out eight of them have been giving away too much fuel, that could add up to thousands of dollars in losses. We’re not only doing consumer protection work, but in most cases, the businesses we inspect also like to see us show up.”
Honest retailers who are trying to compete in the marketplace appreciate the fact that the business down the street is also going to be inspected for accurate devices. The goal is to make sure everyone is on a level playing field and not gaining an advantage by shorting the customer.
Oregonians may be surprised to learn about other devices being inspected by ODA. Inspectors conduct annual certification of the belt-conveyor scale systems used in the Port of Portland. The certification of these scale systems helps Oregonians market their products. Inspectors work closely with Oregon's agriculture industry, examining farm produce scales, grain elevator scales, livestock scales, seafood processing scales, truck scales, railroad scales, and automatic bulk weighing systems to assure Oregon products are accurately weighed.
ODA inspectors rely on consumers to play an important role in the marketplace.
“When you buy anything by weight or measure, the device measuring that item should read zero before it starts,” says Barber. “When you go to the gas pump, before they start pumping gasoline, the meter should read zero. Before produce is weighed at the grocery store, the scale should read zero. If it doesn’t, you will end up paying for not only that product, but also the product that was already registered on the meter or scale. If the meter or scale does not read zero to start with, tell the attendant or cashier. Be aware of what’s going on."
Consumers with questions or concerns should bring them up with the retailer. Those not satisfied with the response can contact ODA’s Weights and Measures Program at (503) 986-4670 or e-mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Consumers can also file general consumer complaints or fuel complaints
The next time you go to a grocery store or fill up at a gas station, remember that someone with the Oregon Department of Agriculture has been watching out for you.
For more information, contact Jason Barber at (503) 986-4767.PDF versionAudio version