Friday, April 27, 2012

Labor Department stops effort to rewrite rules on child farm labor in face of many objections

The U.S. Department of Labor is stopping its effort to revise child farm-labor regulations after backlash and pressure from farming advocates who said the rules would hinder family farming.

The rules would have banned children younger than 16 from using farm equipment, and those younger than 18 from working in feedlots, grain bins and stockyards. The department made it clear several times the rules would exempt children working on family farms owned and operated by their parents, and two months ago it said it would modify them in an attempt to satisfy opponents and perhaps broaden the exemption to accommodate farm-ownership structures that cross generations in families.

The department said its goal was to reduce child farm fatalities, and that it was merely formalizing a policy adopted in the Bush administration, but The Associated Press reports Republicans attacked the proposals, calling them "impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms." Farm groups continued to complain the rules would "upset traditions" of children working on farms owned by other relatives, AP reports.

The department said it withdrew the proposal after receiving thousands of comments that expressed concern about the rules. "The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life," a statement about the decision said. "Especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations." (Read more)

The director of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety expressed disappointment about the decision. "Barbara Lee agrees that the parental exemption was confusing but the overall changes would have increased protections for children who are hired to work in farming," Julie Harker of Brownfield reports. Lee told her, "We’re disappointed in the fact that some of these updated changes that were proposed would actually affect 15 and 16 year olds who are hired in big production agriculture operations." (Read more or download a 9-minute audio interview)

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