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Measuring Up To Standards

12 July 2000 Media Statement
Thursday 13 July 2000

Measuring Up To Standards

The accurate measuring of everything from speed cameras to hospital equipment and pollution levels are under the spotlight at the National Measurement Conference starting today.

The theme for the two-day conference in Wellington this year is the importance of measurement to New Zealand's social and economic well-being.

Opening the conference, Consumer Affairs Minister Phillida Bunkle said having confidence in the way we measure our products is vital to maintaining New Zealand's credibility as a trade partner.

"Accurate – or inaccurate - measurements affect our lives in an infinite variety of ways. This can be anything from ensuring we get what we pay for when we buy a packet of potato chips or winter firewood, to the accuracy of blood pressure machines and speed cameras," Phillida Bunkle said.

"This conference is a first for New Zealand. Bringing New Zealand and international experts together is a key to ensuring that our economic and social wellbeing is maintained.

"Our $21,000 million trade relies on our good reputation, which is built on a sound measurement structure. Poor measurement puts this reputation at risk. This in fact happened in recent years when the NZ Dairy Board's measurement of fat content in spreadable butter was questioned, but stood up to scrutiny."

"The conference will look at how to maintain credibility in trade removing the possibility of our competitors arguing that our measurement infrastructure is not trustworthy and creating a technical barrier to our trade," said Ms Bunkle.

The conference will also look at recommendations to improve measurement services in the health area.

"Whether it is a simple examination of blood pressure or an examination by electrocardiograph, the patient and the doctor or health professional must have confidence that the measurement is accurate," said Ms Bunkle.

"Indeed we need only to look at Gisborne's cervical screening programme where measurement affected the credibility of the programme.

"The government also needs confidence in the measurement system the results impact both on your view of how health services are delivered and also on health spending priorities.

"A study in the United Kingdom found a number of blood pressure instruments were measuring incorrectly. What's interesting is that had this not been discovered, public funds might have been diverted to treating high blood pressure when the solution was the replace the faulty instruments.

"The conference will also look at whether we need to improve the accuracy of speed cameras and other transport measurement systems. Our traffic laws depend on measurements of speed, blood alcohol and weight to ensure safer roads. Measurement aids criminal investigations and can be the instrument that punishes the guilty, absolves the innocent and protects the public.

"An accurate system is also important for our environment where judging our pollution levels are based on measurement. These measurements will from time to time be tested in the courts and the government considers it is vital that we have the highest standards and levels of traceability to national and international standards.

"The Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emission levels provides for the trading of carbon credits against emission debits. A country that does not use its allowable carbon quota may sell the surplus to another country that cannot meet its own emissions. While trading in pollution levels is not a desirable scenario, New Zealand will be looking to inter-governmental bodies to ensure that trading is based on an accurate and honest system."

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