When you think of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), you may think of services for farmers such as livestock dealer licenses or farmland preservation. But something that might escape notice is the consumer protection the department offers to everyone in the state.
MDARD’s Weights and Measures program ensures that everything bought or sold on the basis of weight, measure or count is done in accordance with the requirements of state law. And that entails hundreds of thousands of products.
According to Craig VanBuren, MDARD Consumer Protection director, the Michigan Weights and Measures Act ensures everyone – be they consumer or business – gets a fair measure of what they are selling or what they paid for.
“More than $170 billion worth of goods sold annually in Michigan are inspected by MDARD’s Weights and Measures program,” he says. “This maintains a level playing field and promotes fair competition.”
The Weights and Measures program makes sure all gas and diesel pumps provide the correct amount of fuel; checks all scales used in commerce are accurate; and ensures all packaged products sold in the state have the correct weight.
“If a farmer buys a 50-pound bag of feed for their cattle, we’re the ones that make sure there are actually 50 pounds of feed in those bags,” VanBuren says. “The same is true for any product: the responsibility falls to us.”
Through the first nine months of 2013, the department conducted more than 15,000 package checks. The usual compliance rate is only about 50 percent, leading to investigations. If there is a problem, a sample size of the product is randomly removed and measured, and the average sample size must equal the weight claimed on the product label.
“If we find out package weights fall short of the label claim, we detain the product until our investigation is complete,” VanBuren says. “If we don’t believe the shortage to be intentional, we will issue fines, and there is usually some stipulation for what the seller needs to do – either take the product back to manufacturer to refill or change the label to the real weight – and it’s up to the consumer if he wants to accept it or not.”
A Weights and Measures inspector also has the responsibility of investigating consumer complaints throughout the entire state, and farmers and growers can be sure no one is trying to cheat them, thanks to MDARD’s efforts.
“I don’t think many farmers really know about us,” VanBuren says. “We’re considered the third party on any transaction. There has to be a referee in this whole process and we fill that role.”