After months of rural outrage and mounting political pressure, the Labor Department announced late Thursday evening that it was dropping it plans to impose new safety rules that would have prevented children and young people from doing most activities on their family farms. The following statement was posted on the agency’s web site:
“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.
As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.
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.”
Reaction from the agricultural community was quick and positive. A statement from the American Farm Bureau Federation read, “The Labor Department’s notification today that it is withdrawing proposed rules that would have prevented many young people from working in agriculture is the right decision for our nation’s family-based agriculture system. Farm Bureau appreciates the administration’s decision and efforts by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to listen to farmers, ranchers and other rural Americans. We also know that this would not have happened without the efforts of Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) and others in Congress, and we thank them for standing up for agriculture and the rural way of life.”
The original proposal announced last fall ignited outrage and indignation among farm and rural families nationwide. Several bills had been introduced in Congress that would have prevented the implementation of the new Labor Department rules. The Department’s proposal came, in part, as a reaction to the accidental death of two high school students last summer while working in a field on an Illinois farm.