By John Masaba
The Government has announced a countrywide clampdown on the sale and production of underweight bread.
According to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), the measure is in a bid to control unfair business practices and protect the consumers in the country.
“We urge all producers to check on what is going out of their production lines to ensure that it conforms to the quantities on the packaging label,” Lawrence Kitimbo, the senior legal metrologist for Uganda National Bureau of Standards, said.
“If we find anybody displaying or transporting bread that is underweight or does not conform to the quantity or grade displayed on the package, we shall be taking action against you, including instituting disciplinary measures in courts of law”.
He said the development comes following countrywide complaints regarding quantities being sold on the Ugandan market.
Kitimbo said while there have also been complaints regarding the weights of other products such as maize flour, snacks, and cement, “the most notorious ones are bread makers”.
“We want to minimise underweight because it not only goes against the law, but it also creates unfair competition,” he said.
He was speaking during a stakeholder engagement meeting regarding pre-packaging at the entity’s headquarters in Bweyogerere in Kampala on Tuesday.
Some of the stakeholders in attendance at the event included manufacturers, importers, and traders of packaged food and non-food products.
Pre-packaged goods are items that have been prepared, weighed, and packed in the absence of the customer, for sale.
Kitimbo said while the bread produced in the supermarkets complies, the ones that are “packed and sold elsewhere, including small retail businesses, are not complying.”
When contacted, some players acknowledged the problem and noted it is used as a way to gain unfair advantage and cheat customers, others said sometimes the bread ends up on the market inadvertently due to the high moisture content in bread.
“To counter that (underweight problem), sometimes we make sure that what comes out of the oven is over and above the stipulated weight on the packaging,” said Livingstone Kalyowa, a manager at Everbrown Bread and Cakes.
He said unlike the bread manufactured in supermarkets, their bread is made to last longer on the shelf, which results in it shrinking not only in size but also in weight.
Deus Mubabagizi, the manager of National Metrology Laboratories, said sometimes the underweights come from manufacturers not seeking routine calibration of the weighting equipment used in the production as required under the law.
He urged producers to do so as this is in their interest and also helps to protect the public against the consequences of inaccurate readings.
“If you are, for example, using the thermometer in a hospital, it will ensure what you are trying to diagnose is what you intend to treat,” he said during the meeting on Tuesday.
He added: “If you are saying, for example, that a human being should be 37 degree Celsius, then you bring faulty equipment, and it reads 38 degrees, you could end up saying the person has a fever when he doesn’t. This could cause you to prescribe the wrong drugs,” he said, adding that through calibration they ensure that the measurements are in the accurate range and safeguard health and safety.
Dr Leticia Namubiru, the Manager of Legal Metrology at UNBS, called for the amendment of the Weights and Measure Act, noting that it has outlived its usefulness.
She said the old law which was produced in 1965 has a limited scope, and cannot, for example, cover areas such as health.
He says, as a result, hospitals and health centres that send their equipment are doing so voluntarily, yet it is very crucial to ensure that the equipment that takes measurements is accurate.
“We have the Legal Metrology Bill that is in Parliament, which we are optimistic that the president will assent to so it can become law,” she said, adding that the law will promote environment and health safety.
UNBS is charged with enforcing Weights and Measures Act Cap 103 in what is known as Legal Metrology.
The role of UNBS is to maintain a uniform measurement system in line with globally accepted standards in verification results.
It is an important aspect of compliance and conformity assessment.
The significance of enforcing legal requirements in measurement can be felt in trades that involve large volumes of transactions.
A small measurement error can result in a large impact on the overall transaction. For instance, an error of 0.03 litres for every litre in a transaction can cumulatively result in an error of 300 litres for every 10,000 litres involved.