The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a food package claimed to weigh a pound can weigh less when the consumer buys it.

What matters is that the package weighed a pound when it was manufactured, the court held.

The decision rests on federal laws that seek to protect consumers with honest labeling at the factory.

But significant weight losses occur between the factory and the supermarket because of moisture lost to the atmosphere or to packaging material.

Recognizing this, the laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia require that when a package lanle lists a net weight of a pound, the consumer must get a pound.

The decision strikes down or threatens these laws and, says the chief of California's Consumer Protection Unit, creates "a much greater capacity for short-weighting," possibly for a broad variety of consumer products in addition to food.

The official, Deputy Attorney General Herschel Elkins, said that for 80 years the states have been able to enforce honest-weight laws with ease. All they had to do was weigh the actual contents of a package to see if it conformed with the net weight listed on the package.

Now, Elkins said in a phone interview in Los Angeles, state and local weights and measures officials must be prepared to prove that short-weighting had occured at the factory.

"You can't do it," Elkins said. "The states are virtually hadcuffed." Some sources said the decision [WORD ILLEGIBLE] trigger a [WORD ILLEGIBLE]

[PARAGRAPH ILLEGIBLE]

[PARAGRAPH ILLEGIBLE]

The companies said [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the Jones acts [WORD ILLEGIBLE] was pre-empted by the federal Who's some Mert [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the case of the bacon, and by the Food Drug, and Cosmetic and Fair Labeling and Packaging acts in the case of the flour. And, they emphasizes they had complied with the federal laws.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the companies and now has been affirmed by the Supreme Court. In the bacon case, the court ruled 9 to 0 for Rath. In the millers' case Justice William H. Rehnquist dissented in our.

Forty states included [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and Virginia, argued in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the-court brief that a ruling agoing California would deprive them of their right to exercise a sovereign police power in an area of vital concern.

The federal government and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, contended that the federal laws permit tailoring of an economical marketing system for the nation as a whole.

[PARAGRAPHES ILLEGIBLE]

The disrepancy between the federal laws affecting flour and the California statute is similar. Flour, however, gains or loses moisture depending upon the humidity where it is stored. If packed in-air-tight packages, a spoils.

California's refusal to permit reasonable weigh variations resulting from moisture less doesn't help [WORD ILLEGIBLE] because Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote for the court, the variations don't change the amount of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] solds the consumer buys. The desire of Congress was to facilitate value comparisons, and the federal standard, based on solids, permits this, he said.