Sunday, April 15, 2012


Consumers world over have to trust the market players when it comes to the weight or volume of contents in a portion sold to them whether packed or fresh. Each country is supposed to have iron-clad rules to protect its citizens from weight frauds indulged by sellers as the consumer cannot be expected to carry measuring devices with them while going for shopping. Citizens depend on the government to discipline the trade through deterrent measures when corrupt selling practices are detected and a vigilant monitoring force is a pre-requisite for identifying fraudsters who indulge in such devious activities. In big countries like India or China, the monitoring agencies often do not have adequate infrastructure and personnel to systematically and continuously catch the culprits, thereby harming the economic interests of the consumers. Here is a story from China which speaks of such frauds in that country as reported recently. 

"SOME hypermarkets and wet markets in the city are cheating consumers on products' weight, particularly on fresh food products, Shanghai quality watchdogs say. Officials with the Shanghai Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision said in some of the hypermarkets, the weight stated on food labels included the weight of the packages. In the Tesco Zhenbei branch in Putuo District, the weight of a pack of sea cucumbers was nearly 15 grams lighter than what the label said, forcing consumers to pay 1.2 yuan (US19 cents) more for each pack, said the bureau. In the NGS No. 118 store, also in Putuo, 10 types of products included the package weight - cooked food, imported fruits, fresh meat, aquatic products and others. And in some wet markets, officials found some vendors rigged electronic scales with a program written into the scales' computer chips, officials said. Yesterday in a vegetable wholesale market in Minhang District, a vendor was using a scale which could control the readout of the weight by pushing designated buttons. Hu Jianping, an city quality official, said the cheating was subtle enough that common consumers could not tell". 

In India there was a time when the Standards of Weight and Measures regulation was in force and those indulging in malpractices were dealt with severely. Sadly in its pursuit of economic liberalization and growth, the government policy underwent drastic changes allowing sellers to pack foods in any non-standard norm and the result is utter chaos in the market. The hapless consumer in the country finds it hard to choose products based on weight because the present labeling provisions do not insist on including the unit cost prominently. In their drive to expand sales manufacturers are adjusting the contents to suit round figures like Rs 2, 3, 5, 6, 10 20 etc and it is common to find same types of products selling at a particular price with varying contents! Similarly there are millions of retail stores which sell loose commodities using defective or manipulated weighing devices. Same is true with wet markets which sell fruits and vegetables using defective balances. One is yet to hear of a fraudster being booked for such heinous crimes! A sad reflection on the ability or commitment on the part of the government to consumer welfare!  


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