Consumer Standards | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Consumer Standards

Consumer standards are documents describing acceptable characteristics or usage for products, materials and services used by individual consumers. They may specify dimensional, performance or safety requirements for household products.

Consumer Standards

Consumer standards are documents describing acceptable characteristics or usage for products, materials and services used by individual consumers. They may specify dimensional, performance or safety requirements for household products. In Canada standards are published by specialized private and government organizations grouped in the National Standards System, co-ordinated by the Standards Council of Canada. Standardization begins when public needs are recognized and involves field and laboratory research. The detailed work of writing a consumer standard is performed by volunteers representing a balance of all groups having an interest in the particular product, material or service. Such standards are known as consensus standards, as their final acceptance depends on substantial agreement among the participants. Standards are usually applied voluntarily. If governments pass laws making usage mandatory, they often simply refer to consensus standards, rather than specifying detailed technical requirements.

The development of a consumer standard is one of the most difficult tasks of standardization. Part of the difficulty is identifying precisely the purpose of a standard for a particular product. For example, except for those regulating safety of operation, no Canadian standard yet exists for television sets because of the difficulty of agreeing on the requirements that the standard should cover.

Consumer groups (eg, the CONSUMERS' ASSOCIATION OF CANADA) are actively involved in the standardization process. Consumer representatives have been participating in standards-writing groups or committees since the 1950s. Standardization professionals generally agree on the necessity of having adequate consumer representation during the preparation of standards affecting consumer products. Because of the somewhat limited role consumer representatives have had in standards-writing committees, and because of consumers' ever-growing demands to be more involved in the standards-writing process, consumer advisory panels have been set up. Each panel consists of 30-40 individuals who meet regularly to study, comment and make recommendations regarding a particular consumer standard. Through the Standards Council of Canada, consumer representatives also participate in international standardization work. They are represented on the Committee on Consumer Policy (COPOLCO), a committee of the International Standards Organization (ISO).

In Canada one of the better-known series of consumer standards pertains to children's clothing sizes, prepared by the then Canadian Government Specifications Board (CGSB, now Canadian General Standards Board) at the request of the Consumers' Association of Canada. This series demanded one of the most exhaustive technical investigations ever carried out in Canada prior to the publication of a consumer standard. Research culminated in 1969 with the publication of 75 CGSB standards specifying "Canada Standards Sizes" for children's clothing. Use of these standards is entirely voluntary but the benefits are clear: they help reduce buyer frustration, facilitate ordering by mail or telephone and reduce the need to return clothing because of poor fit.

Many other far-reaching consumer standards are legislated by government. Legislation regulating WEIGHTS AND MEASURES has been in effect since 1872, when reference was made to British standards. Today's law stipulates that "all units of measurement in Canada shall be determined on the basis of the International System of Units determined by the General Conference on Weights and Measures," although provisions are made for use of the imperial system (see METRIC CONVERSION). The Packaging and Labelling Act specifies that packages for food and nonfood products intended for consumption must carry a label showing the name, nature, volume and weight of the product along with the name and address of the manufacturer. Federal departments of health, agriculture and CONSUMER AND CORPORATE AFFAIRS share responsibilities in administering food standards and FOOD LEGISLATION. Agriculture Canada is responsible for enforcing government standards affecting the quality and condition of agricultural food products and the wholesomeness of meats and meat products. Meats are graded into different classes, thereby indicating that standards have been met.

HEALTH CANADA is chiefly concerned with enforcing standards specifying the composition and wholesomeness of nonagricultural foods and food products. It also administers the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations, which set minimum standards for various products. The Act is intended to protect the public against health hazards and fraud in the sale and use of foods, drugs, cosmetics and medical devices (see SAFETY STANDARDS). Among other things, this exhaustive Act prohibits the sale of foods, drugs or cosmetics manufactured under unsanitary conditions; of any article of food that contains any poisonous or harmful substance; of drugs that do not perform according to prescribed standards; and of cosmetics that may cause injury to health. The Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs is responsible for investigating economic fraud concerning food and for administering the packaging, labelling and advertising of food products.