The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced that the widely disputed proposals regarding child labor on farms have been withdrawn. The proposed changes, announced in 2011, suggested prohibiting youth under the age of 16 from using power equipment, working with livestock in certain circumstances, driving tractors or working at heights above six feet.

In a statement, the DOL clarified its decision to withdraw the proposal.

"The decision to withdraw this rule – including provisions to define the 'parental exemption' – was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration,” the DOL said in the statement.

Instead of pursuing changes that would severely limit the work opportunities for youth interested in agricultural vocations, the DOL will work with rural stakeholders, including the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the National Farmers Union (NFU), the FFA and 4-H, to develop an educational program to help reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.

Agriculture groups are celebrating the DOL’s decision, claiming victory over what was called by many organizations and politicians as overreaching by the government that would threaten the future of agriculture.     

AFBF President Bob Stallman reacted to the announcement, praising the Obama administration and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack for listening to farmers, ranchers and rural Americans. He also specially thanked Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Representative Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., for their efforts in Congress.

“This victory for farm families is due to the thousands of farmers and ranchers who sent comments to the Labor Department opposing the rules and continued to voice their concerns with members of Congress,” Stallman said in a news release. “This announcement shows the strength of American agriculture and grassroots action.”

Here is a quick look at responses from other organizations:

• National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President J.D. Alexander:

“This is a victory for farm and ranch families throughout the country. This ridiculous rule would have prevented the next generation of farmers and ranchers from acquiring skills and passion for this very noble profession. It also would have restricted urban kids from working on farms and acquiring a solid worth ethic and enthusiasm for this very diverse industry.  We absolutely have to have a sensible regulatory environment in Washington, D.C. We should not have to worry about negligent rules being promulgated by out-of-touch regulatory agencies. We encourage the administration to venture off the city sidewalks and learn more about where their food comes from.”

• National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) President and CEO Jerry Kozak:

"The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is encouraged by the Department’s recognition that the path it was on with this proposal was an affront to millions of family members on farms and ranches across America. Many of them had objected to what the Labor Department was planning to do, and they voiced their concerns to the DOL, as well as to Congress. The withdrawal of the proposal is a victory for common sense.” 

• Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst

“The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) decision to withdraw its child labor proposal is welcome news. It defied common sense for DOL to propose restricting young people from working on farms, learning skills and developing a good work ethic.

Soon after the rulemaking was published last September, Farm Bureau asked the DOL to withdraw the rulemaking in its entirety. We were disappointed when officials said in February they would simply re-propose a portion of the rule for public comment. It took a little while, but the DOL finally listened.

Our members stayed on top of this issue, submitting comments, talking to their federal lawmakers, and sharing the message with people in their communities. Even FFA members from across the state were speaking out by saying “let us get our hands dirty.” I have to believe our collective efforts, along with the work of our congressional delegation, helped make a difference.”