Going Metric: American Foods and Drugs Measure Up

By Randal, Judith | FDA Consumer, September 1994 | Go to article overview

Going Metric: American Foods and Drugs Measure Up


Randal, Judith, FDA Consumer


Years ago, nearly every principality, dukedom and kingdom had its own set of weights and measures that often differed wildly from standards in effect a few miles away. That worked well enough for small, self-contained societies. But as the horizons of commerce broadened, local measurement units no longer

Today, in a time of rapid transport and instantaneous communication, there is only one marketplace and it is global. Trading in it requires a common, standard set of measurements worldwide. We have such a set of standards. It is popularly known as the metric system and more formally as the International System of Units (SI).

Until now, the United States has been very much like the Boy Scout in the Labor Day parade whose proud mother exclaimed, "Look, they are all out of step but Johnny." Except for two minuscule players in the global marketplace--Liberia and Myanmar (Burma)--ours has been the only trading nation not routinely conducting its commercial affairs in metric units.

This has been a source of problems: If we sell rice or flour by the pound, how does this sit with a purchaser in some foreign country who is used to buying rice or flour by the kilogram? And what does it do to our competitive position if U.S. products are the only ones on a store shelf in a distant land labeled in weight units that make no sense to would-be purchasers?

Through a 1992 amendment to the 1967 Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, Congress has ordered that the packaging of many consumer products display both the customary inch-pound and metric designations. Final regulations for products in the Food and Drug Administration's domain--most processed foods, virtually all nonprescription drugs, and personal care items ranging from liquid makeup to sunscreens--are expected soon.

Once the regulations are final, manufacturers of the products will have a grace period to use up any labels already on hand that disclose only inch-pound system measurements. And some of the hundreds of thousands of products in FDA's jurisdition--adhesive bandage strips are an example--will not be subject to the new requirement, at least not immediately. Meanwhile, because some U.S. companies have realized the benefits of "going metric," their products are already labeled in both metric and traditional units. Typical is this notation on a can of condensed tomato soup: "10 3/4 oz.--305 grams." And the labels on prescription drugs have had metric designations for many years.

Switch Is On

Since mid-century, all other English-speaking nations have made the switch to metric. For example, both Canada and Australia, longtime adherents to the English system of measurement, are now comfortably in the metric camp--as indeed is England itself. Conversion to metric in other English-speaking countries was not done overnight or without public information and education campaigns. Starting in 1970, Australia phased in new measurements one at a time with a series of "M-days" ("M" for metric), each preceded by a barrage of publicity through the news media. As each deadline passed, an old standard of weight or volume or length or area disappeared and a metric one took its place. Canadians followed a similar course of gradualism over a 10-year period starting in 1973. Today, according to an official at the Canadian embassy in Washington, "older people remember the old measures, but younger people don't know what a gallon is."

If gradualism is the key to success in metric conversion, the American experience should be a cakewalk. We have been on the metric track for almost 120 years; indeed, it is an irony of history that the world's last major holdout was one of the original signatories to the first international metric agreement. This was the Treaty of the Meter, signed in Paris in 1875. The United States was the only English-speaking country among the treaty's 17 original signers.

Even earlier--in 1866--President Andrew Johnson signed an act making metric measurements legal anywhere in the United States. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Going Metric: American Foods and Drugs Measure Up
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.