The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which had sought in 2011 to increase
protections for children working in agriculture, has agreed to ”re-propose the
portion of its regulation on child labor in agriculture interpreting the ‘parental
exemption.’” The original proposal sought to update a 40-year-old rule in
light of data showing that “children are significantly more likely to be killed
while performing agricultural work than while working in all other industries
combined.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack applauded the action, saying,
“The Labor Department listened to farmers and ranchers across the country.
This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent
a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while
keeping kids safe.”

Critical responses from a number of lawmakers and the agricultural sector
led DOL to reconsider its action. Under the revised rule, children of any age
employed by their parent or a person standing in the place of the parent,
including “a part owner of the farm, a partner in a partnership or an officer of
a corporation that owns the farm if the ownership interest in the partnership
or corporation is substantial,” may perform any job on a farm “operated by
their parent or such person standing in the place of a parent.”

Still, the rule would reportedly prohibit children younger than 16 from using hazardous power-driven equipment and children younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) called the proposed revisions “promising news” but contended that the child labor rule remains “a threat to the future of agriculture.” According to Moran, the rules would prevent children from participating in common farm tasks such as rounding up cattle on horseback, operating a tractor or mucking out stalls with a shovel and wheelbarrow. The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation said, “The decision today by the Labor Department to re-propose the ‘parental exemption’ in the child labor rule is a positive step, but much more work is needed. . . . DOL’s rule would have a detrimental effect on family farms and would create an even tighter supply of farm labor when it’s already in short supply.” See DOL News Release and The Voice of Agriculture, February 1, 2012; Tulsa World, February 2, 2012.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.