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New labor rules attack family farm

Published 5:15pm Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Working on a farm instils in youths a sense of responsibility, work ethic, and countless other invaluable lessons that will guide them for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor has proposed rules that would prohibit children under age 16 from performing many duties on a family farm – including all interaction with animals.
Today, the national average age of a farmer is 57 years old. This is partly because fewer children are following their parents into agriculture. Considering the importance of this industry in feeding a growing nation, we should be encouraging children to fall in love with farming, not enacting rules that drive them further away.
There are currently about 50,000 farms in operation in Michigan.  I believe that the values and life skills learned on the family farm are at the core of our Southwest Michigan community, which is why I co-sponsored a resolution adopted by the Senate in November that called upon the department not to implement the new regulations.
I am pleased that the department is considering possible exemptions to the rules, like allowing parents to give their children tasks and chores on their farms and those of relatives, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles.
The Labor department is expected to take public comment on that part of the proposed changes this summer. I am thankful that the department is taking a second look at allowing children to work on the farms of extended family members, but it doesn’t go far enough.
The proposed revisions to the federal child labor regulations would effectively ban participation by youths in raising animals and showing them at the local county fair, milking the family cow or helping parents to feed the horses.
Protecting youths in the workplace is a laudable goal, but the reality of these onerous rules would be to virtually destroy the generational family farm and community organizations like 4-H and FFA that are vital to our Southwest Michigan communities.
In addition, figures show that the new rules are not necessary. According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, the number of child agricultural injuries has declined almost 60 percent since 1998.
The outrageous federal proposals illustrate the vast disconnect between Washington bureaucrats and Midwest family farmers.
Senate Resolution 94 was a way for myself and fellow legislators to send the message to Washington regulators that their actions can have real, damaging effects on families and farmers in the real world.
I sincerely hope that Labor department officials hear the message from the public this summer and stop this attack on the American family farm.
Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, represents the 21st District, which includes Berrien and Cass counties and most of Van Buren County.

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