Baby Formula, the Pandemic, and the Metric System

I recently got pushback from a media outlet because it recorded a podcast five years ago about the metric system, and it didn’t want to go over old territory. Brother.

U.S. ounces and U.K. ounces
are not the same size! As you can see from the “9,” U.S. ounces are bigger.

Not only is our metric system landscape constantly changing, but it impacts us in ways we don’t even see coming at us. When you heard about our shortage of infant formula in the United States, did you consider that our lack of metric system adoption added at least two new hurdles to our babies (and others) getting safe food? Well, it did.

From our unthinking perspective: Why just solve a dozen different urgent, life-saving problems when you can add two more due to our lack of metric system adoption in the United States? I think it is safe to say that the U.S.’s continued isolation in our measurement system does not bode well for the world in general. (My blog. My opinion.) However, it is a correctable problem. I think we all deserve more information about this measurement problem (see my request for a Congressional hearing with the House Subcommittee on Science, Space, & Technology) on our 200+ year measurement car wreck. But there are resources on this subject in the short term: National Institute of Standards and Technology.

We added at least two obstacles into our American baby formula crisis through our lack of international measurement standards

The Federal Trade Commission administers the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA). The law itself directs the agency to put into place:

….additional regulations where necessary to prevent consumer deception (or to facilitate value comparisons) with respect to descriptions of ingredients, slack fill of packages, use of “cents-off” or lower price labeling, or characterization of package sizes.

Let’s face it, a global pandemic is horrible, and we’ve been going through it for almost three years. Just trying to keep everyone safe from invisible, evolving viruses is an emergency on its own.

Then, we created a situation we fundamentally shouldn’t have. Because of the COVID pandemic, supply chains broke down in many unanticipated ways. All over the place. One place parents really felt it was a loss of infant formula and mixes. While the problem had multiple factors, I only want to address a couple of the metric-system-adoption failures here.

Problem #1: Lack of dual labeling at a minimum as required by current law for product importation (U.S. customary and metric system [SI] units). At the minimum. Other laws are also at play here. I can’t possibly cite all of them. But, I’m sure that others in the government could produce this information if called upon to do so.

Problem #2: Potential conversions errors when mixing unfamiliar units associated with the metric system and U.S. customary units. Getting that information out to parents may, or may not, have been a successful/unsuccessful campaign. I have no idea, but what’s below should, to me, have been completely unnecessary.

Try to convince me this isn’t stupid and dangerous for everyone in this country.

As I understand it, the original problem started with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration missing contamination at an infant formula manufacturing site in the United States. This created a national supply-chain crisis. The manufacturer, Abbott was also to blame. It’s a huge outfit with more than 100,000 employees. The White House recognized this issue’s importance immediately and started working on it from various angles as children/infants (and others) suddenly couldn’t get the food they needed to live.

The Biden Administration went so far as to fly formula from other countries to the United States. Called “Operation Fly Formula,” A statement dated June 22, 2022, says:

In May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that the agency is exercising enforcement discretion so that Nestlé can export additional infant formula into the U.S. Nestlé will import both standard and specialty infant formulas, including…

Let’s look at the phrase “… the agency is exercising enforcement discretion…”

Since the FPLA is meant to avoid deception directed at consumers, and crooks have used units of measure since time immemorial*, so all commodities must state their contents in the prevailing units (be they metric, U.S. customary, or both), including for infant food. It’s a health a safety and a commerce issue.

Dual labeling

One problem we have is that packages in our country need to be “dual labeled” where there is enough room to do so, (see National Institute of Standards and Technology labeling site). This also involves the Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulation.

Of those packages examined, 17% declared the net quantity of contents in only metric units. Almost 57.5% of those metric packages were found to be noncompliant with current FPLA dual labeling requirements. [Emphasis mine.]

So, under the law, you have to dual-labeled products for distribution in the United States. Of course, infant formula never meant for export to the United States would only have metric system units on them. That was never a problem until we tried to import infant formula during a pandemic. Then, suddenly, it became part of a much larger problem. Completely unnecessary and avoidable.

As indicated by the FDA Guidance Document: “Guidance for Industry: Infant Formula Enforcement Discretion Policy, dated May 2022“:

FDA intends to temporarily exercise enforcement discretion concerning specific requirements for infant formulas that may not comply with certain statutory and regulatory requirements and is seeking information from manufacturers regarding their products’ safety and nutritional adequacy. 

Well, that solved one problem…

Conversion errors

So, the Administration did lots of things to supply our babies with food, and other countries tried to help us in an emergency. The White House lifted the dual labeling requirement for the time being. Of course, that leads to problems shifting from an import problem to a “consumer use” problem and the potential of conversion errors while mixing formulas. Such a problem would be Impossible in a solely SI world.

Here is my problem with writing about conversion errors. I couldn’t find any fundamental, accessible research on error rates. I found LOTS of things that said conversion errors are bad, but I could never get a good enough answer about what rates of conversion errors there are. But errors are made. Everyday. I assure you. We can’t stop all conversion errors, but we can stop the stupid ones like constantly trying to use two incompatible measurement systems side by side for 200+ years in this country.

So, what happens when Americans suddenly end up with only metric system units on hand? Easy. They get confused, so the federal government must then get the word out about using these mostly unfamiliar measurement units, so their kids don’t get sick and die from malnutrition. Whatever path led us here could not possibly be a good one. How much did it cost to whip up the poster above, and how much time and effort went into getting that conversion guidance into the right hands? If the efforts were successful, then lots and lots of resources, from the federal government right down to the doctors’ offices. Those are steep taxpayer dollars, my friend.

If we only used metric system units, both of these problems would disappear. Once and for all.

Please help get the word out.



Hot Dogs, Buns, and the Metric System

I’m dropping everything I’m doing right now to highlight something that I think is important.

Hot dogs and buns. No, seriously: hot dogs and buns.

I found out yesterday that Heinz (part of the Kraft-Heinz Corporation [KHC]) has started a campaign called the “Heinz Hot Dog Pact” to get manufacturers (apparently including themselves) to package both hot dogs and buns in counts of 10 each. (Ten each! This is just icing on the cake. Yeah, I make puns.) It’s hoping to clean up the mess made by having these mismatched, but usually paired items made equal—finally—and in sets of 10. Even better.

The Kraft-Heinz organization is robust, international, and a huge player in the food and beverage sector.

Why I think this is important

This extremely large organization is calling on others in the “production” end of things to make a change for the better for consumers. Isn’t that what every organization should attempt when it makes sense to do so?

Please also understand that it was revealed to me that one of the problems or “catch points” during our last metric system adoption attempt in the 1970s was grocers who didn’t want to be “on the front lines” if all the labels (and other things) in the stores suddenly changed to metric because consumers might yell at THEM about it. They did not want to put themselves in that position and I don’t blame them.

People visit my blog from all over the world. Chime in folks. (The actual top of my list of visiting countries and Spain has more than 550 views.)

Let’s face it, Heinz could just make the change itself (within its own production lines) but instead, it wants to address and fix the underlying problem: A mismatch of usually paired items.

BRAVO to Heinz for taking such a proactive stand to fix a ridiculous problem that should have been solved decades ago. In my mind, this echoes what needs to be done with the metric system. That’s why I bring this subject up now.

According an Adweek story, the idea originated with a Canadian ad agency

Packages should have 10 buns and 10 wieners, says cheeky campaign from Canadian agency Rethink.

Does “American Heinz” get credit for a campaign that originated with our Northern neighbors? In my opinion, having a great idea is important but only if it is recognized as a great idea once presented. It takes courage and foresight for companies to see a great idea and run with it. Frankly, in my opinion, most of them just F them up. I’ve witnessed the smoldering of good ideas ground down by company “liaisons” during my entire career.

It takes even more courage for a company to stick its neck out and try to change things in a meaningful way FOR A WHOLE BUSINESS SECTOR (food and beverage). I consider this exceptional work toward a good cause and KHC deserves all the good publicity that gets heaped upon it. (Any side issues, notwithstanding.)

What does this mean for this project? I have some thoughts. I need to mull them carefully before I will act. Part of it will be to try to follow the events of this campaign and it’s success rate.

However, this issue prompts new section of the blog:

Cheers and Jeers

Cheers to Heinz, Kraft Heinz and, if you like, you can join the dog/buns campaign on the platform on this issue. Feel free to comment and include the words (hopefully in a smart way) “metric system.” Yes, I’m inciting people to “rise and comment.”

A cropped version of an image for the “Heinz Hot Dog Pact.”

HOWEVER, please don’t start a petition on this site for metric adoption now. It will fail. I can almost guarantee it. I’m asking for a bit of patience while I try to “ramp things up.”

Cheers to Tim Kaine, a democratic Senator and member of the Armed Services Committee. Within the last couple of weeks, he had an interview with Rachael Maddow, (on MSNBC) when he unabashedly used the phrase “square centimeters” without apology or translation. The more people who think and talk using the metric system only, the better for everyone toward metric system adoption. Let Senator Kaine know that you care about this issue (politely please) even if he “doesn’t belong to you” as a Senator. In a way, all elected officials belong to us within a democracy.

Oh, and this might be an “American problem.” My wonderful contact in Australia did a quick “scout” for me and relayed that there, buns and hot dogs come in equal numbers. Not a surprise to me.

What about your country? Do your packages of dogs and buns match in number? Hey, that’s what the comments section is for.

Thanks for reading to the end.


Note: This blog has been archived by the Library of Congress since 2013. The access page for it is here: It is housed within the Library’s “Science Blogs Web Archive

The Science Blogs Web Archive provides resources for scholars and others conducting research on science writing, research, teaching and communication, as well as scientific discourse in the United States. Science blogs are online journals or diaries and thus enhance the Library’s analog collection of science periodicals and manuscripts by providing content that reflects observations and understanding of science in the 21st century. The archive was created to ensure the preservation and collection of digital materials which produce original thought and observations in all major scientific disciplines (earth sciences, physical sciences, and life sciences) for all audience levels.

The Nonfiction Writers Association and the metric system: Part II

I’m collecting information and writing reports (and lots of other things)

In the works:

  • A communications plan to support my proof of concept (POC)* recapped below
  • A nonfiction book proposal
  • List of reasons people use to reject adoption of the metric system.
  • A situation analysis
  • I’m building out this webpage so I can include additional resources and information

    They are all interrelated.

The importance of the proof of concept

My idea of a proof of concept in this situation is bigger than the book proposal (however, I will need to a book proposal to “sell” the metric system idea to agents/publishers).

My idea of proof of concept is based, in part, on the idea that all good ideas should begin with:

“Don’t tell me, show me.”

In the case of this project, the “tell” is “The United States should switch to the metric system.” The “show me” rests with the potential and demonstrative improvements to our medical and education systems, time and productivity savings, and even things like environment impacts. And then, of course, I have to spell out why these “shows” are important and that the concepts are connected. These ideas will have a substantive place in my book America’s Biggest Miscalculation.

If there is no good “why” behind why an idea/concept is important and relevant, it’s unlikely to move very far forward in a legitimate way.

Is that why, as children, we were invited to “Show and tell” and not just to “Tell” or “Show”? Did we not learn nothing from that early experience? Context matters, history matters, good sources matter.

Science works on proof of concept

Within the science-based environment from which I came (Los Alamos National Laboratory), these concepts could be earth shatteringly important, cost millions or billions of dollars and add to our fundamental understanding of how the universe works. And for the really big stuff (think high-energy physics sorts of things where you have unbelievably expensive and complex custom equipment) it takes more resources, partnerships (national and international), and some of the smartest and most dedicated scientists in the world to pursue their work.

Large Hadron Collider

In my experience, an awful lot of science takes place within custom equipment that’s about a photogenic as an old trash can. For instance, there are only so many ways you can photograph a supercomputer…and then there’s the classic “people talking in front of computer screens.” Ugh.
In this photo we have both things: drab equipment (but well-lit!) AND someone working on a computer. And that, my friends, is the reality of coming up with images for much of science.
Photo: Anna Patelia/CERN

Luckily, my bar is FAR lower than that, but I will still need to compete for funding and attention from agents and publisher to get this work done, and if these folks pick the metric system work, they’re likely passing on other opportunities. To be successful, I have to convince people that this work is important, could contribute to the health and education within our society, but it has be be able to sell copies of the book. That’s last but not least.

Situation analysis

With some new concepts and ideas in mind (from the Nonfiction Authors Association conference, see previous post), I’ve realized just how much the situation analysis feeds into my needs for the book. The better I understand this issue, and from every possible angle I can think of, the better off I will ultimately be.

The purpose of my situation analysis is to coalesce my ideas and observations into a “bite-sized” report that presents the current lay of the land.

Recall, our last real attempt at metric system adoption was in the mid-1970s. The federal government generated thousands and thousands of pages of reports on why switching to the metric system was a good idea or rather “A decision whose time has come [PDF].” (Caution: It’s one of the 1970s documents and it’s 191 pages.) Then came failure—not complete, but in many, many ways.

Fast forward almost 40 years and here we are, but where is that exactly?

That’s what I propose to put on paper in a rudimentary way. I want to illustrate MY understanding of the current environment and how the book project fits into that environment. I need to demonstrate that people (you specifically) care about this issue enough to support it through a book purchase.

Of primary importance for this report is: “Who are the current players and what roles do they fulfill?

It’s all about barriers, opportunities, resources, and the need to make course corrections by monitoring the environment and responding quickly and appropriately.

I’ll also include a “gap analysis” in some form. The point of a gap analysis is to strongly consider where an “entity is” with relation to resources (in any form, human or financial capital, for instance) and a desired end-state. What needs to fill the “gap” between current resources and the goal? Where could those resources come from? Are there assets not being properly leveraged? What are all the interrelations between other organizations in the environment (usually business competitors) and the entity? You get the idea.

I can tell you this now. There is more federal legislation in place than you think there is and I think that’s really, really important to metric system adoption.

This project’s biggest asset is you, dear reader

Me, I’m no one. I’m just someone who happened to realize (because I’m old enough) that we are constantly making our lives more complicated in the United States since we don’t routinely use the metric system for our measurement units. Let’s make things easier for our medical community and our students AND EVERYONE. I think it’s the least we can do.

Thanks for reading down this far.


The proof of concept I laid out last week:

* “I hope to demonstrate there is enough interest in the United States’ lack of metric system adoption (or there will be once people actually “see” our current mess) to buy a copy of America’s Biggest Miscalculation and make it commercially and financially viable enough for an agent/publisher to favor of THIS project when allocating resources.”

2021, My Book, and the Metric System

Well folks, it’s 2021 and I have an announcement to make: Before the end of the year, I plan to have a draft of my book on the metric system done. Main title: America’s Biggest Miscalculation.

That means a couple of things for this blog:

A visual refresh of the website to show the work’s new direction. It should be up by the next blog post in a couple of weeks;
– A change in the content on these pages. I will still write about the metric system, but I’ll also write about the journey of working on the book and getting it into the right hands. In fact, my next post will talk about what I’m doing now to prepare to construct the book’s pitch proposal;
– However, I do have blogs in the cue on subjects such as the fact that we’re losing a foot in this country starting this year [Which one? In what direction? You’ll have to check back.] and the unbelievable number of references to the metric system and measurement in The Simpsons in its more than 30 years on the air and;
– Posts will be shorter, but I’ll post more often.

I had to buy a new bookcase just to store all of my research materials.

To all my faithful readers, I wanted you to be the first to know of the new direction the project is taking. In the eight-plus years since I started working on this metric system project I’ve had two different producers, but neither came up with the (then projected) $300,000 needed for the documentary.

Since writing a book is much less expensive (but—alternately—extremely labor intensive at the front end), it’s my hope that the book will drum up the interest needed to finance the documentary. If the book gets enough interest to ignite a real discussion toward metric system adoption [which has always been my goal], then we’ll have take it from there given that implementation is a whole different issue and beyond my scope of work…for right now.

This also means I’m going to become slightly more urgent about getting traction on this blog and other social media. It’s really important because the more views, comments, and subscribers the subject garners, the easier it will be to pitch agents and publishers. [I’ll talk more about this shortly.]

I think most authors want to see their books in print…not just electronically.

Consider that I’m already pushing a rock uphill since I’ve got to convince agents and publishers that there is the need for a book on a subject that has been mostly ignored for ~30-40 years in this country.

So, the more you can help bring attention to these efforts, the easier it will be to get to publication.

It’s going to take a huge awareness campaign so the American public knows just how much our lack of metric system adoption is hurting us—every…single…day. I’m trying to do my part with the book and now and I thank those folks who encourage me on. You are much appreciated.

You’ll hear more soon.


To those few, but wonderful people who donated to my MainStreet campaign several years ago: I paid the taxes on the money out of my pocket so I could deposit the full amount into a savings account where it will reside until such time as I make the documentary. My hope is that you will eventually get a special copy of both the book AND the documentary when the times come. Thanks for your patience.

Math, the pandemic, and the metric system

Masks and social distancing are the current way of the world. Photo source: Pixabay.

Schools are back in session—both in person and remotely (due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary social distancing). And while the long-term effects of what this will do to our elementary-children’s education is still up in the air, there is a way to make math education easier: stop teaching U.S. customary and metric units in favor of the metric system alone.

Common Core Standards Revisited

Common Core Standards were an attempt to get some uniform education goals implemented across the country for Language Arts and Mathematics. Problematically, states are allowed to teach whatever subjects they want whenever they want to teach them. To make my point in an exaggerated way—one state could teach pre-calculus in kindergarten while another could opt to only teach the alphabet all the way through high school. While it’s not that bad, there really were/are not unified standards. Common core attempted to remedy that at a grassroots level. (More from me here.) Of course, while several states refused to adopt the Common Core, a majority of states and territories continue to use them. Here is the current situation today from the Common Core website.

States that do and don’t use Common Core standards.

Common Core and math

Common Core math standards calls for teaching U.S. customary and metric units side by side in grades 2, 3, 4, and, 5 under the category of “Measurement & Data.”

For instance, in grade 2, the standards state:

Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes. (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.2.MD.A.1)

For grade 5, they include:

Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems. (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.5.MD.A.1)

Why teach everything in the graphic below when we could only need to teach the units on the right? It’s the “right” way to go.

We should teach only the easy half of this diagram. And these are just volume measures. Lengths are a whole other graphic.

By teaching the two sets of units at the same time, we are not doing our children any favors. Given the math and science test scores in this country, wasting time teaching an efficient set of units plus our clumsy, complicated ones is, at best a disservice, and during times like these, a potential travesty.

Our most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores

The PISA scores are a worldwide measure of areas of learning across the globe, which include math and science. The most recent PISA scores were released in December 2019. The news regarding mathematical progress for U.S. students is not promising.

The data was collected from about 600,000 students in 79 countries and economies and is administered by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. The bottom line for the U.S.? I think the accompanying title of an early 2020 USA Today article pretty well sums it up:

To be fair, this article says we stress teaching process ahead of logic but it could just as easily be about teaching two measurement systems at once.

Our PISA scores

Overall, the mean score was 492 for math across all countries, while the U.S. scored 485. So, not only did the U.S. score near the middle of pack, it scored less than the mean.

In contrast, Japanese boys scored 532, and Korea’s scored 528 so the U.S. scored around 50 points less than those countries!

This image shows just how underperforming we are.

(Data released December 2019) I added the highlight to show just how far behind we are.

Why are faltering math scores a big deal?

One issue is income. The highest paying jobs all require proficiency at numbers, whether they are for doctors or CEOs. Math skills are a must. And according to Investopedia, the highest paying occupations in the U.S. for 2019 were predominately centered around healthcare jobs—such jobs all requires not only math but fluency with the metric system.

As I’ve pointed out before (2013 post), it’s not so much that our country’s math scores are getting worse, it’s that other countries are surpassing us.

Our flat scores in the area of math are, in fact, putting us behind.

We can do something about this. Advocate teaching only metric units in our schools.

You can start that ball rolling by responding to the following. To make easier, I’ve put together a draft that you can cut and paste or modify as works for you, but please help. I’ve referenced sources to keep everything transparent.

Action: Notice of Request for Information on STEM Education

On behalf of the National Science and Technology Council’s (NSTC’s) Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) and in coordination with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Science Foundation (NSF) requests input related to the implementation of the Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, “Charting a Course For Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education.”

DATES: Interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before 11:59 p.m. ET, October 19, 2020.

Comments submitted in response to this notice may be submitted online to: Email submissions should be machine-readable [PDF, Word] and not copy-protected. Submissions in the subject line of the email message should include “Individual/Organization Name: STEM RFI Response” (e.g., Johnson High School: STEM RFI Response).

You can view the notice here:

Here is a draft response to get you started on a comment. Feel free to adapt.


My radio interview on the metric system

A few months ago I had an interview about the metric system with a local public radio station KSFR in Santa Fe.

The interview was performed by Carly Newfeld as part of her program “The Last Word.” It runs about 23 minutes and you can listen to it here:

Apparently, it’s still being played so I don’t think this notice is too out of date.

Sorry, this post is long but there was a lot to share.

As usual, your comments are noticed and appreciated.


(P.S. Happy birthday Peter G.)

Things That Set Us Apart and the Metric System


Image from Pixabay

As you might expect, I use Google to do a daily search for new “metric system” items to ensure I don’t miss anything relevant to my research. And while I do get some searches that don’t quite hit the mark (“metrics” also refer to other kinds of measures as in “My sales metrics went up again last month”), most of them are right on topic.

A recent piece in an online publication called “The Travel” had an article called “25 Things About America We All Can’t Stand (Even The Locals). What was the number one “annoyance”? Our measurements:

Most of the world abides by the metric system when it comes to measurements, however, believe it or not, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not use the metric system as its predominant system of measurement, says Britannica.

Ironically, the publisher of this list is an organization that had its address listed in Quebec, Canada. In case you are not aware, Canada is a “soft adoption” country that uses both Imperial and metric system units on many things, so this is somewhat of a situation of “the pot calling the kettle black.”

This got me looking for other articles that might mention our lack of metric system adoption as an American inconsistency. Of course, I found some.

American “quirks”

Another recent article, dated from November 15 of last year was called “24 things that are considered ‘normal’ in the US but the rest of the world finds weird.”

One of those items is “Using the imperial system of measurement instead of the metric system.”*

The United States is one of only three countries that still use the imperial system of measurement, and everyone out there thinks we’re strange for doing so.

A piece from Redbook dated June 25, 2018, was called “37 Things Americans Do That Confuse the Rest of the World: There’s the American way…and then there’s everybody else.

Number 25 of the 37 lists “Measure in miles, feet, and inches:

This is an obvious one, and, yet, it’s still a constant source of bewilderment for most of the world. Instead of following the metric system, America is one of just three countries to follow the imperial system of measurement. (The others are Liberia and Myanmar.)

So, aside from our lack of metric system adoption, what do others find strange about us? A smattering:

  • Take-out boxes and drink refills
  • Huge portion sizes (which probably leads to the take-out boxes)
  • Walking around with large cups of coffee
  • Using ice in everything

Just in case you think them all food-related, also included are:

  • Working too much
  • Baby showers
  • Talking to strangers
  • Being too sensitive (as well as too insensitive to others)
  • Having flags everywhere
  • Not enough privacy in public bathroom stalls
  • We’re loud and smile too much
  • Tipping
  • Sales tax

This last one is likely because some 140 countries have a Value Added Tax (known as VAT) that is seen on the item itself. However, in the United States, sales tax is not known until you’re at the sales register. And that’s because sales tax can differ from state to state and even region to region. As an example, the sales tax in Los Alamos, NM (where I live) is 7.3125% but the sales tax in Santa Fe, NM is 8.44% (that’s just 54 km or 44 minutes away).

United states?

And that goes back to one of my arguments that one of the reasons we’ve found metric system adoption difficult in this country is because we are less the UNITED States of American than the United STATES of America (As in states’ rights). Still, it’s written into the Constitution that Congress can set weights and measures for our country so at least that’s one less hurdle to overcome.

Let’s get with the global program and switch to the metric system (or S.I. as it is known in the rest of the world.)

Thanks for tuning in.


Boxes of butter and the metric system

Box of Kroger butter

How much butter in a “box” according to the Department of Agriculture? More than you might think. Keep reading.

It’s fall again here in sunny New Mexico. It’s also time for the annual selling of massive amounts of green chile for which my state is famous. I wrote back in 2015 about the fact that you can still buy green chile by the bushel here.

Apparently, it’s not the only agriculturally based measure still used within the farming community when it goes almost directly to the consumer without repackaging. Not long ago I stopped at the local farmer’s market and bought some peaches. It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the paper bag contained the produce quantity that was labeled as ½ peck.

1/2 Peck on a bag

Notation on a bag of recently purchased peaches at a farmer’s market.

Had I not been able to see for myself how many peaches I was buying at the time, I would have had no idea what the volume of a peck could have been. A few days later I realized that the large boxes of chiles the grocery store were selling was also only listed by the bushel. (For the record, a “general” bushel is equivalent to 64 U.S. pints while a peck is the equivalent of 8 U.S. quarts. Ironically, the source I got this information from, [which is a new collaboration between and Oxford University Press], doesn’t even use the same base measurements so you also have to know that there are two pints in a quart so there are 64 pints in a bushel and 16 pints in a peck…) Confusing.

When I go to the grocery store, I normally only buy produce by the item, ounce, or pound. Bushels and pecks aren’t volumetric measures I normally use at Kroger or elsewhere.

pamphletThat got me curious about other agricultural products that I might not normally use. After a bit of research, I came across a publication put out by the Department of Agriculture called “Weights, Measures, and Conversion Factors for Agricultural Commodities and Their Products.” (Agricultural Handbook Number 697). The 71-page document is dated 1992, but it was the most recent one I could find, so I used it for this post.

The document numerous lists of units described in all their gory detail. Sure, some are familiar to most of us, but it also includes long tons (1.016 947 metric tons) and short tons (0.907 185 metric tons).

But it gets even more fun since bushels are different sizes depending on the commodities measured.

  • Wheat, white potatoes, and soybeans use a 60-pound bushel;
  • Shelled corn, rye, sorghum grain, and flaxseed use a 56-pound bushel;
  • Barley, buckwheat, and apples use a 48-pound bushel.

Not only that but for some reason, there are both 32- and 38-pounds bushels of oats!


Huh? Two different bushels of oats?

Plus, once you wrap your head around that there is also a carton of artichokes (23 pounds/10.4 kg), the sack of topped beets (25 pounds/11.3 kg)—unless you’re talking about a sack of beans, which then contains 100 pounds or 45.4 kg.

Broomcorn (and it notes there are 6 bales per ton) is 333 pounds per bale or 151 kg. However, don’t get this confused with Broomcorn seed which is sold by the bushel and can be anywhere from 44-50 pounds (20-22.7 kg) according to the brochure. I love precision, don’t you?

Let’s not forget butter, which is sold by the box, of 68 pounds or 30.9 kg.

Gallons aren’t treated much better. A gallon of castor oil is 8 pounds (3.6 kg), but a gallon of corn syrup is 11.72 pounds (5.3 kg).

Then there is the lug, which for Western grapes 28 pounds or 12.7 kg, but if you are measuring avocados, that lug is 12-15 pounds or 5.4-6.8 kg.

There are more complications, of course, like the 7/10-bushel carton of Texas oranges (40 pounds), while Florida oranges are sold by the 4/5-bushel carton (40 pounds). But the California and Arizona oranges are sold by the carton of 38 pounds.

I can only imagine the politics of how this came to be.

Hopefully, I’ve now made my point which is: our current system of gallons, bales, bushels, pecks, boxes, cartons, and lugs, plus our ounces, pounds, cups, quartsteaspoons, tablespoons, and pints, (and I didn’t even get to the bag, barrel, pocket/bag, hogshead, case, crate, and bin) is just crazy and the fact that some argue our current system is easier can only be offered by someone who is unaware of our current, deeply flawed units.

That said, just made sure if you send someone to the store for a box of butter, the person won’t return with 30.9 kg (69 pounds) of it.

See you next month when I’ll have a call to action regarding our government and the metric system. Maybe you can help.

Thanks for staying tuned.


The ‘Argument of Twelves’ and the Metric System

The fact that we have 12 inches in a foot isn’t a good reason to reject the metric system. Image from arielrobin on Pixabay.

(Sorry for the long lag between posts. I had some things going on in my life that required my full attention. Things are pretty much back on track. Thanks for your patience.)

Awhile back I was fulfilling my role as a scientist ambassador at the Bradbury Science Museum here in Los Alamos, NM. (This mostly consists of setting up various measurement activities and chatting with visitors about the advantages of the metric system for a couple of hours on the occasional Saturday.)

One day I realized that a man was starting to pace back and forth in front of me. Even though I wasn’t yet done prepping and I sensed this gentleman was about to go on the attack, I went ahead and said, “People are dying in this country because we don’t use the metric system in this country.”

“I don’t believe you,” he replied.

Even the Centers for Disease Control recommends strict use of metric units for liquids. (Pills are measured in grams, or a fraction thereof, already.)

I then handed him the 2016 Top Ten Patient Safety Concerns for Healthcare Organizations report put out by ECRI [Emergency Care Research Institute]. Number seven on the list: “Medication Errors Related to Pounds and Kilograms.” It advocates for only using metric system units (i.e. kilograms for weight) to reduce dosing errors since most medications use weight to determine the correct dose. It’s reason is simple: There are about two pounds in a kilogram. Doctors and nurses are schooled in the metric system but have to bounce back and forth between metric and U.S. customary units to communicate with their American patients. If they mix up the two, they might give the patients half the dose they need (potentially rendering it ineffective) or twice the amount (read overdose).

Using metric system units for medicine has also been recommended by multiple health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control. (See the above image)

The gentleman reviewed the report and since—I assume—he could no longer argue on that particular point, he launched into what I’ve now dubbed “The argument of twelves.”

The Argument of Twelves

The argument goes something like this: If you are working with a group/set of 12s, then your factors are 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12; but if you are working in the metric system, your factors are only 1, 2, 5, and 10.

I consider this to be a specious argument since (and please, but nicely correct me if I’m wrong) we don’t really measure a lot of things by twelves. Sure, a foot has twelve inches and there are twelve months in a year. (Apparently eggs are sold by the dozen—according to the New York Times—because eggs were a penny each and there are 12 pennies in a shilling. Selling eggs by the dozen meant, as a vendor, you didn’t have to make change.) However, there isn’t much else I can think of that comes in twelves except a gross of 144 items (which is 12 multiplied by 12). You can’t really cite time because military/Zulu time uses a 24-hour clock.

If we actually had 12 ounces in a cup and 12 cups to a gallon and 12 ounces in a pound and 12 yards to a mile, then I would understand that counter argument. (In reality, there are 8 ounces in a cup, 16 cups and 128 ounces in gallon, 16 ounces in a pound, and 1,760 yards in a mile…plus 36 inches or 3 feet in a yard and so on.)

But, when it comes to everyday measurement, we really only divide up inches, months, and eggs into twelves. I don’t think that’s enough reason to reject using the metric system.

However, I’ve found after seven years on this project (the anniversary of which was the day before yesterday), if people are threatened by the idea of changing to the metric system—for any number of reasons—they will latch onto whatever immediately comes to mind to reject it.

Around the time that the man was winding down his argument of twelves, some other—more open-minded people—approached me and I turned my attention to them.

I’ve said many times that, when it comes to this issue, there are probably 10-20 percent of people who already love the metric system and there’s about another 10-20 percent who are completely opposed to it.

It’s my plan to focus my attention on the 60 to 80 percent who don’t realize we have a problem in this country and are open to learning about it. Maybe action will eventually occur. That’s my hope. If you want to become more involved, let me know at

In a closing note: I realize that some people ascribe a historical and religious meaning to the number 12, but we don’t have to limit the number of members on a jury or the number of apostles due to the metric system so let’s not shoehorn that number into our measurement system unnecessarily.

Plan for another post in September.

Thanks for getting this far,


Medicine and the Metric System, Part 2

(A previous post I wrote on the metric system and medicine is here. Hence, this is Part 2.)

When I was interviewed by Vox News for a podcast last month, I mentioned a recent recall involving confused unit dosing. I’d like to explore that issue in more depth this month.

August 2018 recall of children’s liquid medicine

A news release issued by the Pfizer Inc. on August 27, 2018, began with the following sentence:

Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, a division of Pfizer Inc., is voluntarily recalling one lot of Children’s Advil® Suspension Bubble Gum Flavored 4 FL OZ Bottle because of customer complaints that the dosage cup provided is marked in teaspoons and the instructions on the label are described in milliliters (mL).

Let’s take a closer look that. What that means is that if someone was paying attention to the number of units and not the units themselves (teaspoons vs. milliliters) — and why wouldn’t everyone expect consistency between the two? —that person could have given their child a significant overdose all the while thinking that they were following the directions.

As the Food and Drug Administration noted:

Pfizer concluded that the use of the product with an unmatched dosage cup marked in teaspoons rather than milliliters has a chance of being associated with potential overdose.

That is putting it mildly. Since there are roughly 5 mL in a teaspoon, giving the smallest dose in teaspoons could result in administering a whopping 20 mL more than prescribed. For a 72-95 pound 11-year-old child, the error compounds to an overdose of 60 mL when only a 15 mL dose was intended!

While not necessarily deadly, the recalls note that “The most common symptoms associated with ibuprofen overdose include nausea, vomiting, headache, drowsiness, blurred vision and dizziness.”

I’m not a doctor, but I image the reactions could be worse for a small child whose health was compromised before the overdose was innocently administered by a caregiver.

We’re just not moving quickly enough to remove such errors from our medical system. As noted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in 2015:

While progress is being made in hospitals in regards to prescribing liquids in mL, many hospitals still use dosing devices that have household measures (e.g., teaspoonful, dessertspoonful, tablespoonful) and, as above, even drams and ounces. This sets healthcare professionals up to fail because the dosage scales on embossed cups are difficult to read, have dangerous abbreviations that are easily confused (e.g., TBS and TSP), and measures that are no longer used (e.g., drams). .

It’s easy enough to make mistakes moving between U.S. customary and metric units without having organizations responsible for our over-the-counter medicines layering on their own errors that might be difficult to immediately perceive.

But changing to the metric system will cost money, I hear some cry

One of the pushbacks I’ve gotten over the years is that it would cost money to switch to the metric system. Let’s take a second and consider the cost of a recall such as the one cited here.

According to Investopedia:

Though insurance may cover a minimal amount to replace defective products, a majority of product recalls result in lawsuits. Between lost sales, replacement costs, government sanctions, and lawsuits, a significant recall can become a multi-billion dollar ordeal. For multi-billion dollar companies, an expensive short-term loss can be easily overcome, but when shareholders and customers lose confidence, there may be greater long-term effects such as plummeting stock prices.

The bottom line: This recall of children’s medicine could have been completely avoided if we weren’t constantly juggling multiple measurement systems in this country.

I’m not saying that using one set of units would solve all problems. After all, it’s still possible a company could put out dosing instruction that contained a typo (or a host of other problems), but let’s do what we can to try to remove easily avoidable errors from the system.

Cost of a recall?

Based on some research I did, it sounds like an average recall cost is over $10 million dollars in direct costs (pulling product off the shelves, etc), while indirect costs (lawsuits, fines, and customer avoidance, stock price, harm to reputation) can mount for years after the recall.

That’s something to highlight when talking about using consistent measures and the cost to implement them.

Thanks for getting this far!


Some resources on the cost of recalls:




A liquid measuring cup and the metric system


This was really difficult to photograph since the units (cups and ounces on one side and milliliters on the other) are only embossed. Most measuring cups use ink for contrast. Hopefully, the visual complexity of one side compared with the other still comes across.

Every once in a while I come across something that really lives up to the cliché of “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I thought I’d share the images above with you since it relates directly to our lack of metric system adoption.

Most glass measuring cups are fairly cleanly designed to show U.S. customary units on one side (no, we don’t use the Imperial units we originally brought over with us from the U.K) and those of the metric system on the other side.

However, the one I recently bought really puts our awkward system into full light.

Interestingly, when I pointed my find out to the person at the cash register, she indicated that she wanted one as well. Alas, as I was shopping in a discount store, I had to inform her that I was buying the only one I saw. (Frankly, I was pleased that someone else wanted something that I considered a fairly unusual item.)

Keep in mind that the whole point of having liquid measuring cups is to avoid spilling whatever one wishes to measure. In theory, the volume-based measure of, say a cup that can be leveled off at the top containing dry ingredients, should be exactly the same as for a liquid measure. The only reason for a liquid measure is to prevent spilling once the measurement is made.


Americans have both “dry” and “wet” measuring cups is so, if you need a full cup of a liquid, you don’t spill it. A liquid measuring cup provides “slosh” margin above the full-cup measure. Also, liquids tend to level themselves. “Dry” cups makes it easy to push off any excess material and make it level. That’s why you don’t normally see half and quarter cup measures listed within dry measuring cups—you couldn’t level them. [Note the ml printed on the dry measuring cup.]

Once I decided to write a blog post about the measuring cup posted at the top of the page,  I tried to do some more research to find out why the designer veered off toward visual complexity for something that is usually designed with simplicity in mind. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out much more from the paper price tag on the bottom of the cup, but it indicated that its origin was Turkey (even though, according to the U.S. Metric Association, Turkey adopted the metric system [or SI as it is known by most of the world] back in 1930. So apparently the cup was intended only for the U.S. market.

There was no identifiable marker’s mark other than something that looked to me like almost a ying and yang mark. A mystery to me, but if someone else can shed light on the maker so I can get some more background—preferably in English—I’d be happy to hear it.

Thanks for reading,

Linda Anderman