Proposed child labor regulations withdrawn

May 4, 2012

Pressure from ag groups played a large role in preventing the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) from banning children under 16 from using most powerdriven farm equipment, including tractors. The proposed rules also would have prevented those younger than 18 from working in feedlots, grain silos and stockyards, or with animals deemed unpredictable, and would have changed, possibly even ended, 4-H and FFA programs.

Citing concerns raised in “thousands of comments,” DOL announced on April 26, 2012, it was withdrawing its proposed rule regarding youth in agriculture.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President J.D. Alexander commended the administration’s action and said farmers and ranchers made their voices heard on the proposed rule, which could have restricted, and in some instances totally prevented, America’s youth from working on farms and ranches.

“This is a victory for farm and ranch families throughout the country. This ridiculous rule would have prevented the next generation of farmers and ranchers from acquiring skills and passion for this very noble profession. It also would have restricted urban kids from working on farms and acquiring a solid work ethic and enthusiasm for this very diverse industry,” said Alexander. “We absolutely have to have a sensible regulatory environment in Washington, D.C. We should not have to worry about negligent rules being promulgated by out-of-touch regulatory agencies. We encourage the administration to venture off the city sidewalks and learn more about where their food comes from.”

Alexander said this is not the first time the administration has proposed rules impacting agriculture before fully evaluating the consequences of the regulations.

He said agency officials should reach out to farmers and ranchers prior to proposing a rule that could jeopardize the future of their profession.

“Rather than strapping our hands behind our backs and preventing American youth from learning the ropes of food and fiber production from today’s farmers and ranchers, the administration should work with farmers and ranchers to ensure the rules on the books are workable,” Alexander said. “Rules and regulations, including those related to America’s youth working on farms and ranches, need to ensure safe working conditions. But the original proposal simply went too far. Cattlemen’s voices were heard.”

State cattlemen’s associations also stepped up to voice opposition to the proposed child labor changes.

Nebraska Cattlemen (NC) organized a coalition of agriculture associations and agriculture supporters to sign an open letter to the secretary of labor opposing the proposed Child Labor in Agriculture regulations. NC opposed these regulations because rather than trying to understand agriculture and work to find safety solutions, DOL was opting, by regulation, to effectively prohibit young workers from being employed in agriculture at all.

“The withdrawal of the proposed child labor regulations comes as a relief to the farmers and ranchers in Nebraska because now they can continue to teach their children about the importance of agriculture through first hand experiences,” states Jim Ramm, NC president.

Along with cattlemen’s organization, other ag industry groups also voiced relief.

“We believe the restrictions would have been burdensome to family farmers and would have hindered their children’s experiences both on and off the farm,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer.

In a press release, DOL stated the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations would be removed as well as the provision to define the ‘parental exemption.’ The release also stated the decision was made in response to thousands of comments received expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small familyowned farms.

Alexander said the administration’s action to withdraw the rule showcases the importance of farm and ranch families being engaged in decisions being made ‘Inside the Beltway.’ He said NCBA will work with the beef community, regulatory agencies and policymakers to ensure a similar rule does not resurface in the future. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor