LONDON – The European Union has abandoned plans to phase out Britain's imperial measures, EU officials said Wednesday, a decision which will allow old fashioned feet, inches, pounds, ounces and gallons to coexist with official meters, grams, and liters.
Some British politicians are calling the move a victory for common sense. The Metric Martyrs, a lobbying group, said it felt vindicated by years of struggle that began when a trader was convicted in 2001 for refusing to sell bananas by the kilogram.
"It has been 'people power' that has forced the European Commission and the government to abandon the enforced metrication program," Metric Martyrs chief Neil Herron said in a statement. "We have saved the pint, the mile, the yard, the foot as well as pounds and ounces."
Britain, like almost every other country in the world, officially uses the metric system, but imperial measures are still used on many road signs, displayed alongside their metric counterparts in the retail industry and used to portion out beer in pubs.
EU rules drafted in 1999 would have phased out the imperial system by 2009, but new rules will allow it to live on, EU Industry Commissioner Geunter Verheugen's spokesman Ton van Lierop said.
British members of the European Parliament praised the move.
"This is a victory for common sense," Liberal Democrat lawmaker Liz Lynne said. "I have always said that if people want their produce in pounds and ounces or in pints they should be allowed it and if they want to buy in metric also they should be able to. This is all about freedom of choice."
Not everyone was thrilled by the EU's decision. Metric-minded Britons argue that the system of imperial measurements, which were standardized in 1836, are antiquated, inconsistent, and hurt the British economy.
"Britain only needs one system of measurement, and we think that that system should be the global system," said Derek Pollard, the secretary of the UK Metric association. "It really handicaps Britain as a world trading power to try and run two systems in parallel," he said.
He pointed to that many imperial measurements, such as apothecaries' weights and measures such as the drachm (which is one eighth of an ounce, or about 35 grams), the scruple (one third of a drachm) and the grain (one twentieth of a scruple), had already been phased out.
"They're in the history books, and I hope the rest will be in the history books in the not-so-distant future," Pollard said.
The United States, which has its own, slightly different set of measures, is one of only three countries, including Liberia and Myanmar, which have not officially adopted the metric system, according to the U.S. Metric Association, although many U.S. companies use dual-unit labeling.