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Feedstuffs - Bill prohibits DOL from enacting stricter farm youth labor laws

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By Jacqui Fatka

The House of Representatives approved H.R. 4157, the Preserving America's Family Farms Act, a bill to prohibit the Department of Labor from moving forward on an earlier proposed rule that would limit the ability of children to work on family farms unless it was for their parents.

In comments on the House floor, Rep. Tim Wahlberg (R., Mich.) stated that even though the administration has said it does not plan to pursue the rule, this legislation "verifies" that the Labor Department cannot move the rule forward or a similar rule.

Many House members voiced support for the bill and shared experiences of growing up and working on a farm and the important values instilled in farm children.

Rep. Richard Hanna (R., N.Y.) said he spent many summers working on his grandparents' dairy farm and learned personal responsibility as well as pride and dignity that results in a day's work. He also shared his family's farm may not have been economically viable without the help of children during harvest and milking.

"Lessons learned on a family farm should be encouraged more, not less," he said. In his time as an employer, he's found that those who worked early and hard in their lives were his most eager and responsible employees. "We should not restrict young people. Character built early grows deeper and lasts a lifetime."

Rep. Tom Latham (R., Iowa), one of the bill's cosponsors, said attempts by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.) to talk down the support on the House floor by stating the rule would not have impacted children if their parents farm "is a misunderstanding and miscomprehension of what agriculture is today" explaining the current structure of farms predominantly includes family members as part of a corporation or a joint operation.

Latham said 16 national farm groups wrote a letter in support of the legislation. According to the letter, "The proposed regulations were overly burdensome to agriculture producers and would have limited, if not eliminated, training opportunities for youth in rural America. Fortunately, the administration listened to the concerns of farmers and ranchers by withdrawing the regulation in April. However, the threat to family farms still exists.

"While we all respect the obligations and responsibilities of DOL to ensure the safety of youth working on farms, we believe that the approaches taken need to be well reasoned and not detrimental to the family farm or the youth participating in farm work," continued the letter.

H.R. 4157 would protect against these threats by preserving the ability of youth to gain training and education by working on the farm. It also protects an agricultural way of life from future child labor regulations that could limit the ability of youth to learn valuable skills by working on the farm.

The letter was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Assn.; American Horse Council; American Seed Trade Assn.; American Soybean Assn.; Florida Fruit & Vegetable Assn.; International Association of Fairs and Expositions; National Association of State Departments of Agriculture; National Cattlemen's Beef Assn.; National Council of Agricultural Employers; National Cotton Council; National FFA Organization; National Milk Producers Federation; National Pork Producers Council; United Fresh Produce Assn.; and U.S. Apple Assn..

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