Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Farmers and politicians speak out against newly proposed child farm labor rules

Farmers are saying the Labor Department is overreaching with newly proposed regulations that would restrict work children under 16 can do on a farm. The rules would only apply to children hired by large farming operations, not those working on their parents' farm. However, many children work on family farms not owned by their parents. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, about 98 percent of the two million farms in the U.S. are family owned. The Department is currently reviewing thousands of comments on the proposed rules.

Ana Campoy of The Wall Street Journal reports the childhood injury rate on farms decreased 59 percent from 1998 to 2009, but agriculture still has the second-highest fatality rate among youth at almost six times the average across all industries. Proponents, like Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, told Campoy the rules make sense because children performing hazardous work on farms is no different than children working in coal mines and construction. Joseph Lord of the Louisville Courier-Journal reports U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation the Obama administration is threatening family farms with the proposed regulations. "This administration is the most hostile to rural America as any I’ve ever seen, because apparently none of them have had any experience with it,” McConnell said.

Campoy reports farmers are saying they "are in a better position than city folk to determine what kinds of farming activities are safe for children." Oklahoma farmer Scott Neufeld said the regulations are the equivalent of outlawing children from helping their mothers bake cookies because they may "get their hand in the blender." Washington orchard owner Lorinda Carlson told Campoy the new law would make it harder for her to hire local teens to help load cherries during harvest – a job most adults aren't willing to do. She said working on a farm as a child helps build work ethic. President of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and pecan farmer Mike Spradling told Campoy he's worried the regulations would "reduce the number of future farmers by limiting the exposure kids have to the agricultural industry." (Read more)

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