An unpopular proposal from the Obama administration to outlaw children from doing farm chores is being finalized by the Department of Labor. The rule, which would apply child-labor laws to children who work on family farms, has already drawn criticism from members of Congress who represent rural districts and the prospect is proving equally unpalatable for the children the rule is meant to ‘protect’.
Under the rules, children under 18 could no longer work “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.”
“Prohibited places of employment,” a Department press release read, “would include country grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.”
Cherokee County Farm Bureau president, Jeff Clark, explains that the problem isn’t merely about farm families losing vital labor from their children, although this will be a major blow to farmers struggling to survive, but that the children themselves will be losing out on valuable life experiences that teach them a string work ethic.
“Losing that work-ethic — it’s so hard to pick this up later in life,” Clark said. “There’s other ways to learn how to farm, but it’s so hard. You can learn so much more working on the farm when you’re 12, 13, 14 years old.”
The new regulations were first proposed last August by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and will additionally revoke approval of safety training and certification by independent groups, instead mandating a federal 90-hour government training course.
Republican Senator Jerry Moran, from Kansas, was already angry about farmers being cited by inspectors for chores that the Labor Department didn’t think were age appropriate and the new regulations will only exacerbate this problem.
“The consequences of the things that you put in your regulations lack common sense,” Moran said.
“And in my view, if the federal government can regulate the kind of relationship between parents and their children on their own family’s farm, there is almost nothing off-limits in which we see the federal government intruding in a way of life.”
As the new regulations will put any jobs that could inflict pain on an animal on the prohibited list, but fails to define ‘inflicting pain’ they could potentially make animal shows a thing of the past, and will likely prevent a child accompanying a veterinarian, even if they’re a parent, to a farm or ranch.
Rossie Blinson is now a college student, but remembers her time on the family farm fondly:
“I started showing sheep when I was four years old. I started with cattle around 8. It’s been very important. I learned a lot of responsibility being a farm kid.”
If the Labor Department gets its way, such experiences will soon be a thing of the past.