Getting what you pay for

Tuesday, 21 March, 2017

Getting what you pay for

Consumers and businesses expect to get what they pay for — if you order 25 kg of carrots you expect to receive 25 kg of carrots. And this expectation is enshrined in Australian law.

Quietly, behind the scenes the National Measurement Institute (NMI), which is part of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, provides advice and assistance to businesses on meeting their obligations under trade measurement law and checks to ensure businesses are measuring accurately for trade. This instrumentality is national regulator of trade transactions involving measurement.

Between now and June 2017, NMI’s ‘Harvest to Home’ trade measurement inspection program is going to focus on the weighing, packaging and selling of fruit and vegetables throughout their journey from paddock to plate.

The program will include:

  • visits to 1400 traders, ranging from producers to wholesalers and retailers;
  • testing 1700 measuring instruments;
  • inspecting 11,000 lines of packaged goods;
  • making 200 ‘secret shopper’ trial purchases.

“We want to make sure that everyone involved in the fruit and vegetable industry, from importers and farmers to retailers, is aware of their rights and obligations under trade measurement laws,” NMI General Manager for Legal Metrology Bill Loizides said.

“Where breaches of the law are detected, NMI inspectors will usually advise businesses on how to improve their trading practices to meet their legal obligations. However, where persistent or serious breaches occur, NMI may use a range of enforcement options, including fines and prosecution.”

NMI aims to enhance the efficient operation of the market through its national trade measurement compliance program. NMI’s enforcement activities enable business and consumers to be confident that trade measurements are accurate.

To help ensure that businesses comply with their obligations under the law, NMI has a national network of trade measurement inspectors who work with industry and consumers to:

  • test measuring instruments, inspect packaged goods and review business practices, including following up on complaints about potential breaches;
  • educate businesses about their obligations;
  • take enforcement action when necessary.

In 2015–16, NMI’s trade measurement inspectors:

  • audited just over 10,000 business premises;
  • tested over 15,000 measuring instruments;
  • inspected almost 1000 weighbridges;
  • inspected over 80,000 lines of packaged goods (almost 320,000 individual packages) for correct measure and measurement labelling.

In its 2015–16 compliance activity and outcomes report NMI concluded that the level of compliance detected has continued to improve over recent years, with 66% of businesses found to be fully compliant in an initial audit in 2015–16, up from 60% in 2014–15.

NMI follow-up on trade measurement inspections showed that the majority of businesses are ready and willing to comply with the law once they are made aware of their obligations. Most detected breaches are relatively minor and, following the issue of a non-compliance notice and advice from the inspector, are corrected by the trader.

In 2015–16, follow-up visits by trade measurement inspectors found that only 15% of those businesses found to be non-compliant in an initial audit continued to breach the law.

Only seven matters were referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to consider for prosecution.

In 2015–16, NMI’s trade measurement inspectors conducted trader audits at 10,123 business premises across Australia to check compliance with trade measurement law. Among other things, trader audits involve checking that packaged goods contain accurate measure and ensuring that measuring instruments used for trade are verified and used correctly.

The trader types with the greatest percentage of non-compliant businesses in 2015-16 included:

  • meat retail — 642 initial audits with non-compliance found at 267 premises (42%);
  • recycling — 156 initial audits with non-compliance found at 71 premises (46%);
  • fruit and vegetable retail — 332 initial audits with non-compliance found at 165 premises (50%);
  • precious metals and stones — 39 initial audits with non-compliance found at 21 premises (54%);
  • seafood wholesale — 22 initial audits with non-compliance found at 12 premises (55%);
  • fuel wholesale — 26 initial audits with non-compliance found at 15 premises (58%).

Of the 2489 business premises visited for a follow-up audit in 2015–16, only 380 (15%) were found to still be breaching the law, a similar proportion to 2014–15.

Some of the NMI’s national targeted programs in 2015–16 included:

  • International foods (wholesale): 162 trader audits were conducted under NMI’s International Foods (Wholesale) Program, including 135 initial audits and 27 follow-up audits. Of the 135 initial visits, non-compliance was identified at 51 premises (38%) including 35 premises (26%) with short measure packaged articles and 16 premises (12%) with other non-compliance such as, unapproved measuring instruments or incorrect labelling. Eight infringement notices and three warning letters were issued to traders under this program in 2015–16.
  • Pet foods and pet products: 17,395 product lines (67,373 articles) were inspected and 131 measuring instruments tested at 561 business premises. One or more instances of non-compliance were identified at 150 (27%) of those premises. Two infringement notices, five warning letters and one education letter were issued as a result of these inspections.
  • Dairy products: 11,369 product lines (44,326 articles) were inspected and 270 measuring instruments were tested at 449 business premises of importers, wholesalers and retailers. This included 405 initial audits, with one or more incidents of non-compliance being identified at 96 (24%) of those premises; and 44 follow-up audits with non-compliance identified at seven (16%) of those premises. One infringement notice and nine warning letters were issued as a result of these inspections.
  • Crayfish (rock lobster): 15 crayfish receiving stations and processing depots in Western Australia were audited to check compliance of trading practices and the accuracy of weighing instruments. Any non-compliance detected was of a minor technical nature which did not have any negative impact on consumers or traders and was corrected after a non-compliance notice or warning letter was issued.
  • Specialty coffee suppliers: 24 independent retailers and wholesalers of specialty coffee products in Southern New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory were audited to determine compliance levels, with 146 lines of packaged goods (720 articles) inspected and 14 weighing instruments tested. While non-compliance was identified at nine (38%) of the traders audited, all matters were of a minor or technical nature with no negative impacts for consumers or the trader.

NMI is keen to ensure that you get what you pay for and equally give to your clients what they are paying you for. Contact the NMI on the National Trade Measurement hotline, 1300 686 664, or email if you are concerned that products have been weighed incorrectly or have incorrect measurement labels.

This factsheet and video clip will give you more information.

Image credit: ©

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