The legality of pints – the official view

On Sunday I posted some questions regarding the legality of pints in New Zealand. As promised, I sent them to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. By Tuesday, I had a reply from Stephen O’Brien who has the coolest job title ever – Advisor Legal Metrology.

I’ve reproduced his reply in full and without comment below:

“Dear Neil,

Thank you for your enquiry.

It is an Offence under Section 8 of the Weights and Measures Act 1987 to use for trade any measure other than that of the metric system.

Section 10 of the Weights and Measures Act 1987 also sets out a traders obligation to use metric measures for advertising goods for sale.

When the Measurement and Product Safety Service (MAPPS) receive a complaint or an Inspector notes a bar advertising pints the trader is approached and the offending advertising is removed.

In New Zealand beer is traditionally sold by the glass or the jug and is not usually sold by measure. A large number of people both customers and traders use the term ‘pint’ as a generic name for a large glass of beer. It is illegal to sell by the pint but the majority of bar patrons will enter bars and ask for a pint glass. The sale of tap beer in bars is a transaction where the consumer has the opportunity to view the quantity of the product before purchase. As a result if the glass is not of the desired size or not properly filled the consumer can refuse to purchase it and move to another bar.

It is difficult to give definitive answers to your questions because prosecution decisions are made based on the specific circumstances of each reported offence. We take into account issues like the cost to consumers, the best means to ensure compliance and the previous history of the offender before deciding to prosecute.

In response to your questions:

Are the many bars which sell beers called pints and half pints breaking the law; if not, why not?

It is possible that the bars are committing an offence against Section 8 or 10 (as I outlined above) but this would depend on the circumstances of each alleged offence.

Does the fact that these are usually not real pints or half pints mean anything; if so, why?

The pint is not a legal measure in New Zealand. If a trader was advertising pints for sale the fact that the pint was less than 568 millilitres means that two offences could have been committed. The first offence is against Section 8 or 10 of the Weights and Measures Act 1987 in relation to the use of a ‘pint’ measure. The second offence is that of supplying short measure under Section 16 of the Weights and Measures Act 1987.

How can someone selling a real pint (568ml or greater) be prosecuted for short measure?

The trader could be committing an offence against Section 8 or 10 in relation to the use of a ‘pint’ measures. The trader could not be prosecuted for selling a short measure if the glass was 568ml or greater.

Should a publican be prosecuted for selling a real pint which is advertised as such; if so, why?

A publican selling ‘real pints’ would be committing an offence against Section 10 of the Weights and Measures Act. The initial MAPSS intervention would involve approaching the trader and requesting removal of the offending advertising. In the event of repeated offending and as a last resort to ensure compliance the trader could be prosecuted for the offence.

Under what legislation are imperial measures illegal?

The Weights and Measures Act 1987

Why are McDonalds Quarter Pounders legal under such legislation?

Under a strict interpretation of the Weights and Measures Act it is not legal to advertise by imperial units. Section 11 of the Weights and Measures Act 1987 outlines exceptions to the use of metric measurements for imported goods. Products like the McDonalds ‘Quarter Pounders’ and Subway ‘Foot long sub’ do not fall into a strict interpretation of these exceptions because they are not imported. The product concept, name and franchises are imported into New Zealand but the products themselves are made locally. The main reason they are able to use imperial units in the names of these products is that they are internationally recognised names that have been established for many years. The large compliance costs for these businesses associated in changing their products names would not result in any benefit to the consumers. If MacDonald’s were to introduce new products into the New Zealand market using imperial measurements MAPSS would consider them to be in breach of the Weights and Measures Act.

How many prosecutions have there been under the beer measurement category in the last five years?


What was the total cost of any prosecutions to the taxpayer including Crown Law Office costs?


If you require any further information please contact me.

All the best.

Stephen O’Brien
Advisor Legal Metrology”

Some interesting issues raised for publicans here.

Mr O’Brien has also indicated there is an intention to tidy up thelegislation and industry practice in the not too distant future. I’ll try to keep you posted.



2 thoughts on “The legality of pints – the official view”

  1. Thanks for the insight. Interesting stuff. I just have one question – what ARE legal glasses in NZ then? Or did I read it right that there are no official legal glass sizes and pubs are free to serve beer in whatever glass they want and charge whatever they want?Having just returned from spending 4 years in the UK I hold the firm belief that the pint and half pint should be the only glasses beer should be served in. This makes it easy to know what you’re getting when you move from pub to pub. I now live in Australia where it’s also confusing but they do have legal measurements albeit known by a different name in different places eg 15fl.oz/425ml is usually known as a schooner and other sizes are 4fl.oz/115ml, 5fl.oz/140ml, 6fl.oz/170ml, 7fl.oz/200ml, 8fl.oz/225ml, 10fl.oz/285ml, 20fl.oz/570ml, 40fl.oz/1140ml ( I remember in ChCh mostly asking for a 12oz and sometimes a 7oz or a handle but now I’m thinking that I wasn’t getting what I was asking for, it was just a name much like asking for a pint which is illegal but is a generic term for a large beer.I was also wondering if there are different terminology around the country like in Australia. As I said in ChCh we had 7oz/12oz/handles/jugs as terms. What do the rest of the country use?Cheers

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