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Stabenow praises Labor decision; farmworker groups do not

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., today praised the Obama administration for withdrawing a controversial rule that would have restricted the employment of children on farms, while a farmworker group said the withdrawal would endanger children’s safety.

The Labor Department said Thursday that it was withdrawing rules affecting both children growing up on farms and those who are employed on farms and said that the rule would not be considered again as long as President Barack Obama is in office.

“I grew up in Clare, was active in 4-H, and know how important family farms are in Michigan,” Stabenow said in a news release, noting that she had asked Labor Secretary Hilda Holis to take farmers’ comments into consideration/

“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,” Stabenow said. “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.”

But David Strauss, executive director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, said his group was not happy with the decision.

“We are profoundly disappointed the administration will not be pursuing the proposed protections for children employed in agriculture,” he said. “These were commonsense protections that would have saved many children's lives.”

Strauss noted that the greatest opposition to the rule had come from farmers concerned about a portion that would have affected whether their children could work on farms, but that the administration chose also to withdraw the portion of the rule that proposed to update the hazardous orders to protect children under the age of 16 who are hired on farms.

The rules would have restricted farmworker children, aged 12 through 15, from performing work that data has shown to be especially dangerous, he said.

Strauss noted that agribusiness groups have been strongly against the entire rule.

“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.”

As The Hagstrom Report noted Thursday, many Republican House members and senators have also issued statements praising the administration’s decision.