Back to the future. Apart from a few market traders and greengrocers, it’s not clear many in the food industry will welcome government moves to reinstate imperial weights and measures, as some kind of tribute to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Quite apart from the fact that anyone under 50 will only ever have been educated in the metric system, there are some obvious trading standards issues about conversion and consistency – not least in terms of price displays, let alone any calibration of different sets of scales for reinvented traditionalists wanting to ditch electronic versions and revert to old-fashioned mechanical devices.
If this were to be extended to prepackaged goods, it would open up a whole new hornet’s nest of dual labelling and portion sizes, not to mention nutritional and other information currently expressed as units per gram of weight. The term ‘calorie’ itself is defined as the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius – which all sounds pretty metric to me.
And if we are to return to pints (in crown-stamped glasses) for beer, why not gallons for petrol? Allowing a pick and mix approach to suit particular products and personal preferences may be someone’s idea of restoring “ancient liberties”. But it is also a recipe for chaos – and potentially exploitation (think shrinkflation) – not to mention the need to reprint recipe books themselves.
But by all accounts, this may only be the start of a promised ‘bonfire’ of EU laws to come, as the government seeks to double down on the notion of Brexit freedoms. Though whether such a bonfire would provide much heat for those suffering from fuel poverty may be something of a moot point.
A more serious side to this has already emerged in the form of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill introduced into parliament last week. But let’s just hope the scientists agree on which measurement systems they are using, unlike NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter disaster in 1999, caused by confusion between pound-seconds and newton-seconds in calculating acceleration data.
Meanwhile, long queues at borders, threats of national rail strikes and the prospect of power cuts this winter are perhaps less intentional throwbacks to yesteryear. The past is indeed a foreign country where they do things differently. I’m not sure everyone wants to go back to it.