Congress Should Protect Children, Not Agribusiness Donors

Feb. 2, 2012

Congress Should Protect Children, Not Agribusiness Donors 

Statement of Justin Feldman, Worker Health and Safety Advocate, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Proposed child labor rules discussed at a hearing today in the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade are necessary and should be implemented quickly. The rules, drafted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), would protect children employed on farms from being made to perform particularly hazardous tasks such as demolishing buildings, spraying pesticides and harvesting tobacco.

Agriculture is the most dangerous industry for children, who, shockingly, can be employed as young as 12 on farms, with few restrictions. Children who work in crop production are six times more likely to die on the job as their peers who work in other industries. Every year, many children become injured, suffer heat stroke or are poisoned by pesticide exposure. The DOL proposal is badly needed. It would be the first time the department has updated its child labor regulations for agriculture since they were first written 40 years ago. As it stands, children working on farms owned or managed by their parents are exempt from the proposed rules.

At the hearing, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) vowed to add a rider to the DOL appropriations bill to block the proposed rules, which he claims are unnecessary. Unsurprisingly, agribusiness is a key donor of Rehberg’s 2012 Senate campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Records also show agribusiness has been aggressively lobbying members of Congress throughout the past year in hopes of killing the rules.

Rehberg’s proposal would protect the interests of agribusiness instead of the lives of children. It should be roundly rejected.

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