The following commentary was written by Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack and published on the USDA's blog.
Recently there has been some concern and confusion in rural America over the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed regulations on child labor and I’d like to help clarify how this regulation will impact our farmers. We all know that kids benefit from good old-fashioned farm work. It’s a longtime way of life that has helped make this country strong, and it teaches kids lessons that last a lifetime.
However, statistics show that while only 4 percent of working youth are in the agriculture sector, 40 percent of fatalities of working kids are associated with machines, equipment, or facilities related to agriculture. That’s way too high. We don’t want to blur the line between teaching kids about a good day’s hard work, and putting them in situations more safely handled by adults.
First, it is important to know that DOL is not proposing any changes to how a son or daughter can help on their family farm. There is nothing in the proposed rule that affects the ability of parents and families to assign chores and tasks to their children. Further, the proposed rule respects the various ways that farms are structured in rural America, including partnerships and LLC’s. DOL is looking at possible approaches to simply protect the safety of children hired to work on a farm.
DOL announced their proposal on September 2 to start a conversation about how to keeps kids out of harm’s way and solicited comments from the agricultural community to ensure everyone had an opportunity to provide input. USDA worked with DOL to extend the comment period through December 1, to give the farming community additional time to prepare and submit comments to help avoid unintended consequences that impact farmers and ranchers.
We want to ensure that children of farm families maintain their ability to help with the family farm, while working to prevent unnecessary child injuries or deaths.
In the months ahead, we will continue to work with DOL on how to find a common-sense approach to strengthening our agricultural economy and keeping our farm kids safe.
Click here to learn more about DOL’s proposed rule.