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PD POLL, final results: How old must a child be before he or she can start working on a dairy farm?

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 18 May 2012

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Labor Department listens, removes proposed child labor rule

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Since the U.S. Department of Labor released a proposed rule to update child labor regulations in agriculture-related jobs last September, the agriculture industry stepped forward to make its position heard.

In our own poll, Progressive Dairyman readers appeared to side with the vocal majority, with 46.8 percent stating a child as young as 8 or 9 should be allowed to work on a dairy farm.

When given the opportunity to comment, readers did add a stipulation that jobs assigned to young children should be age-appropriate with plenty of guidance provided by adults.

Only 8.3 percent of respondents took a stance more aligned with the proposed rule that suggested more farm tasks be reserved for children 16 years old and older.

Apparently the Department received the message from agriculture loud and clear, as on April 26 it released a statement regarding its decision to withdraw the proposed rule dealing with children under 16 who work in agricultural vocations.

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The statement read: “The decision to withdraw this rule – including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ – was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.

“Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America and 4-H – to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”

Upon hearing the news, groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Milk Producers Federation, along with U.S. senators and representatives, rejoiced.

“This victory for farm families is due to the thousands of farmers and ranchers who sent comments to the Labor Department opposing the rules and continued to voice their concerns with members of Congress. This announcement shows the strength of American agriculture and grassroots action,” stated Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

He continued, “Farm Bureau will continue working to ensure that the parental exemptions that remain important to agriculture will be protected, and we will continue our work to help educate families about the importance of farm safety. We also look forward to working with the Departments of Agriculture and Labor and rural stakeholders to develop a program to promote safer agricultural working practices.”

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National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jerry Kozak said, “NMPF is encouraged by the department’s recognition that the path it was on with this proposal was an affront to millions of family members on farms and ranches across America. Many of them had objected to what the Labor Department was planning to do and they voiced their concerns to the DOL, as well as to Congress. The withdrawal of the proposal is a victory for common sense.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) echoed Kozak’s sentiment on common sense in his statement: “It’s good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families. To even propose such regulations defies common sense and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works.”

Fellow Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) was a strong opponent to this proposed rule and a leader in the legislative effort against it. In March of this year, Moran and U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) introduced legislation, the Preserving America’s Family Farm Act, to prevent the Department of Labor (DOL) from enacting its controversial proposed restrictions.

After hearing the announcement, Moran said, “American farmers and ranchers received welcome news … the Department of Labor finally listened to them and withdrew its proposed youth farm labor rule, which would have fundamentally altered the future of agriculture in our country. If the Department would have moved forward with regulating the relationship between parents and children on their own farm, a dangerous precedent would have been set – virtually nothing would be off limits when it comes to government intrusion into our lives.”

House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) is also concerned about government intrusion in agriculture. In his statement, Lucas said, “This proposed rule created great angst in the countryside about the impact it would have had on the future of the family farm. It was a concern that agricultural producers kept raising during our Farm Bill field hearings.

“The Obama administration has proposed numerous rules that affect family farmers and ranchers without fully knowing the impact of their actions. I hope this will serve as a lesson to the administration that they should seek input from the agriculture sector before continuing to move forward with unworkable regulations.”

According to the Associated Press, not all groups are pleased with the rule withdrawal. It reported that Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, said the Labor Department’s sudden decision to withdraw the proposed rules means more children will die in farm accidents that could have been prevented. PD

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Karen Lee
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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