Farm-related groups and members of Congress were high-fiving across Capitol Hill Friday when news broke that the U.S. Department of Labor had walked away from proposed child labor law changes. The agency says that no more attempts to change those rules will be made under the Obama Adminstration.
A range of responses gave farmers credit for moving the needle on the debate, away from a change. Concerns over those labor laws and how they would have altered what it means to be a farm kid were a significant part of the momentum in agriculture's favor.
"The response from our family farmers and ranchers to this regulation was loud, swift and unanimous," says Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., chair of the House Ag Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry. "Farmers and ranchers across the country sent a clear message that they will not stand by while the Obama Administration tells them how to farm their land, and they certainly will not allow this administration to tell them how to raise their families."
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and chair of the Senate Ag Committee, released a statement applauding the move by the DOL. In a press statement, Stabenow notes that when she grew up in Clare, Mich., she was active in 4-H, and "know how important family farms are in Michigan. I am glad the Department of Labor heard my concerns and the concerns of so many families in Michigan and decided to re-evaluate and ultimately withdraw this rule. There must be strong safeguards to protect children from dangerous situations, but there needs to be an understanding that many children in rural communities learn about safety by helping their family on the farm."
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., says that "common sense finally prevailed" in the withdrawal. He also credits a move by colleagues in the House: "I applaud the efforts of my colleagues, specifically, the leadership of Rep. Rehberg, as well as Reps. Latham and Boren who introduced H.R. 4157, the Preserving America's Family Farms Act that would have blocked DOL from implementing any regulation that prohibits youth from working on family-owned farms."
But now every reaction was positive. The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs was not happy with the withdrawal of the proposed rule:
"We are profoundly disappointed the Administration will not be pursuing the proposed protections for children employed in agriculture," said David Strauss, Executive Director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs. "These were common sense protections that would have saved many children's lives."
"Farm work for many children is not a vocation," said Norma Flores Lopez, Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign at AFOP. "For the children of farmworkers, whose lives will continue to be put in jeopardy to harvest America's food, this is not an educational experience to prepare them to own their own farm one day. They are left exposed and unprotected through this move to withdraw the safety rules for children employed in agriculture."