You get what you pay for – that’s the assumption, at least.
Whether it’s motor oil, sugar, gas or plants, consumers don’t have to think about the accuracy of the weight or quality of products they purchase at retail stores. They can be confident that a 5-pound bag of sugar actually contains 5 pounds, and the numbers on the gas pump match the amount of gas going into their tanks.
That assurance is a result of the Alabama Department of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures division, which is responsible for regulating all devices used in commerce to weigh or measure products. This division also ensures the quality of products like gasoline and motor oil.
“Consumer protection is our main objective,” says Stacy Boshell, Weights and Measures division director. “All devices used in commerce are tested at least once annually. Most anything you can see or touch, at some point in time, has been across a scale or is affected by a measure. We wind up with our hands in a lot of stuff.”
Boshell says there are a minimum of 30,000 weighing devices and another 90,000 measuring devices that are regulated by the Weights and Measures division.
The division also ensures companies cannot sell a substandard product in Alabama.
“We had one incident last year with motor oils – our inspectors go around and collect samples of motor oil and make sure it meets the standards, and there was a lot of substandard motor oil coming into Alabama.
“We were able to pick up on it and stop it. We issued some no-sales on that manufacturer, and they’re no longer selling in Alabama. That’s something we monitor very closely.”
Most of the time, manufacturers cooperate fully with the Weights and Measures division to correct their mistakes.
“They usually aren’t doing it intentionally,” Boshell says. “Once they’re made aware of it, they make it right.”
Fairness for Everyone
Boshell says the Weights and Measures division’s top priority is consumer protection, and fairness in the marketplace benefits everyone involved.
“We ensure an equal means of trade,” Boshell says. “If the accuracy of measurement is off in one direction or another, either the buyer or the seller is getting hurt. If the devices are not accurate, it’s a snowball effect. One industry affects another. Our responsibility is to make sure it’s a fair device for everyone.”
Ellie Taylor of the Alabama Grocer’s Association says the Weights and Measures division is an asset to the state’s grocers.
“It protects consumers against paying higher prices for items, but it also protects grocers from losing profits because of inaccurate scale readings,” Taylor says.
“It also ensures that all retailers are on an equal and level playing field by requiring that retailers submit reports annually, and making sure any inconsistencies or violations found are fixed in a timely manner.
This level of scrutiny maintains a high standard of excellence in the industry.”
In October 2014, the Weights and Measures division implemented a new software program that enables registered service agents with a license to submit annual weights and measures reports, allowing the division’s inspectors to be more like auditors.
“Our inspectors were stretched thin, and this solution ensures that every single device is tested annually,” Boshell says.