February 3, 2012

Agribusiness Fights to Allow Children to Work in Manure Pits

Congressman Denny Rehberg is fighting on behalf of agribusiness interests to allow children to work in unsafe agriculture jobs, including manure pits.
Congressman Denny Rehberg is fighting on behalf of agribusiness interests to allow children to work in unsafe agriculture jobs, including manure pits.
Most child labor was prohibited in 1938, but there are a few exceptions for certain industries where children are still allowed to work.

One of the biggest loopholes is the agricultural industry. The Department of Labor recently issued new proposed regulations restricting child labor on farms, regulations which are drawing intense opposition from politicians and agribusiness groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation. The rules have been held up by administration official Cass Sunstein, at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs which reviews most Federal regulations before they are finalized. These rules are complex, and the opposition to them is varied. Some politicians, such as Jon Tester, Debbie Stabenow, and Tom Harkin, want to ensure that children can work on farms in which their family’s own a stake.  The Department of Labor has recently revised the rules to allow that.

But other politicians just seem to want children to be put to work.

For instance, Republican Congressional candidate Tom Cotton has argued against child labor restrictions in the agricultural sector, saying “We need more young people who’ve worked all day in the fields, not less.” And Republican Congressman Danny Rehberg believes that modern farm equipment cannot hurt children.

“It’s impossible. You could have a five-year-old out there running it.” Rehberg added that he’s previously employed a 10-year-old neighbor to herd cashmere goats with what he described as a Kawasaki youth motorcycle. “Now would that be exempt under this rule?” Rehberg demanded of Nancy J. Leppink, a deputy administrator in the Labor Department..

Note that Rehberg is talking about employing a neighbor’s child, which means that he is opposing rules that go beyond letting children work on farms in which their family owns a stake. According to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, one of the proposed rules would “prohibit work inside a manure pit.” There are more proposed rules that attempt to restrict children from using farm machinery and dealing with dangerous poisonous materials and environments, these rules having nothing to do with the family farming exception. It seems like this is just lobbying to let children work in manure pits.
Often we say lobbying is gross, as a metaphor. In this case, lobbying is just gross.
  • RUCerious

    I would have no problem with this law as long as this Congressperson agrees to supervise the child while standing on his head in the manure pit.

  • Greg Van Ho

    I Federal Govt. should stay out of the farm business when it comes to child labor. The writer of this column has obviously never worked on a farm, neve shoveled cow manure. or had to hoe beans. This is what you do when it is a family farm. Don’t put the family farm out of business.

  • Nag Hammadi

    He somewhat reminds me of Adolph Hilter!

  • A M

    Greg wasn’t paying attention, clearly. The proposed rule ALLOWS children to work on FAMILY owned farms. Those farms are exempt. And I have worked on a farm more times than I care to remember while growing up, and there are lots of dangerous ways for kids to get hurt. Saw a kid lose his leg cause he got too close to a PTO…he was 14. My friend’s cousin got trapped in a grain bin…suffocated. Farms can be dangerous.

  • Obvious

    Such silly congressman, this bill is not designed for your neighbor’s kid u hired. Give us a break. In fact, as A M mentioned, plenty of kids are hurt on family farms so maybe family farms should also be included. What we are talking about are the kids hired down from Mexico by the recruiters who drive down there, those kids – like the 16 yo girl who died in CAL fields because the company couldn’t be bothered to provide water – STOP pretending this is about your neighbor riding around on a motorcycle proclaiming to be a farmer hand for your farm – you know EXACTLY what this bill is designed for. That company that let that young teenager die in our California fields had not consequence. THAT’s what this bill is designed for and have a little respect for all the kids who gave their lives so we could eat. Geez, I am so tired of these people supposedly serious educated men ignoring the loss of life while playing word games.

  • Lisa

    Unfortunatly Rehberg is running for senator in Montana, which is where I live. He now represents the district I live in. I wouldn’t vote for him for anything. He’s in the pocket of big business. He’d sell out kids, the environment and anything else to support big business.He’s truly a “teapub”.

  • I.M. Notsewprized

    “Most child labor was prohibited in 1938,” yet I worked at the local horse farm near my house from 10-16-years of age, from 1969 through 1975. Kids growing up on farms and around farms will still be working at them 50-years from now . . . if we are still around. This isn’t about that as Obvious has already suggested.

    It took many years, from the industrial revolution after the American Civil War, all the way to 1938, for America to wake up to the deplorable conditions children were subjected to in the American industrial complex. That is because when something becomes sociologically acceptable, it becomes almost impossible to shut that sociological door. I point to the once taboo practice of women tattooing up, and America’s developing acceptance of Homosexual relationships, and then ask, do you see these doors, now open, closing anytime soon? Which is why it is imperative the American people do not let this door effecting child labor laws to open once again.

    From Wisconsin, to Ohio, to kids replacing janitors in school, this isn’t so much about child labor, but rather, the destruction of organized labor in America. If we let this door open, I for one don’t want to be around watching a 75-80-year fight to close it again. I’m not sure the country would survive . . . the rich, they would continue to survive, but the country as we know it? I’m just not sure. As it is . . . the future is not so bright we need to wear shades.

  • JJ

    Greg, grow a brain. No one is saying your kids should be shoveling sh*t. You won’t be able to hire someone else’s kids to do that. That’s wrong.

  • Children should be in school, not working in manure fields or factories or cleaning schools. They are the future, they won’t get anywhere if they are working in jobs that are supposed to be filled by adults.

  • Cynthia Reed

    I am not surprised by Rehberg’s position. He is German/American. I am PA Deutsch. The rural Germanic cultures put their children into hard farm labor at an early age and have never had any problems “farming” those same children out to neighbors for what amounts/amounted to slave labor. My grandmother mother, aunts and uncles, mother-in-law, and assorted relatives were subjected to such a culture from 1890-1940 and I have absolutely no doubt that before 1890 it was even worse and widely accepted. From my British/American father’s side, also in PA, children were put into horrendous conditions in the mills and coal mines and those conditions did not cease until WWII.The Republicans and their corporate masters wish to return to the pre-1940s world. They are counting on the fact that most of us baby boomers ignored the stories our parents told us about their miserable f—-king lives before WWII, and the children of Boomers were shielded from any knowledge of their grandparents’ and greatgrandparents’ lives. Its time to revisit those lives and look at them for what they were. Do you really want to go back there? Count me out!

  • Maria Olshin

    In times past, families desperately needed the money their children could earn to keep the family fed and housed.

    Lewis Hine’s photographs depict the conditions under which children earned the money that allowed their parents to feed all of their children. They show a time when they had no time to be children, to learn, to develop their potential abilities, to hope for anything better for themselves. They show a time when children had no intrinsic value, and were often maimed or killed on the factory floor.

    Is this a time we are willing to return to? Is this what we hope for our own children? Are we willing to allow the GOP and the Tea Party to consign our own families to this future? Fight back!

  • Ronald MacInnis

    I worked on a neighbor’s dairy farm for a summer. Several years later the farmers son had his Achilles tendon severed by a mowing machine during haying. How can anyone say that farming is not dangerous, especially a person sophisticated enough to run for senator.

  • Chrissa

    Does anyone else think this guy contributed oodles of manure to Newt Gingrich’s campaign?

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  • rogo000

    What kind of negative image are we to derive from this headline. First of all, no one goes in a manure pit unless they want to die of asphyxiation in a matter of minutes.

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  • Manny

    I’m a repentant semi-industrialized pig farmer who owns buildings with manure pits under them and want to confirm rogooo’s claim that “no one” goes in to or works in manure pits. And one who wishes he’d never constructed one of those pits. Remorseful about it.

    And for the “family farm” thing. There are so few of those left, and so very, very few with young children living on them (the average remaining production farmer is over 55 years old). It is glaringly obvious that the Grant Wood image of the simple farmer which no longer exists in reality is being called up once again to whore for some perverse agenda. Kids might work as cheaply as Foxcon employees, no? What could be better for a bottom line?

    And too bad that there isn’t a clearing house somewhere for respectable and well intentioned journalists, of which Matt Stoller is one of the very best (I look forward daily to his contributions at nakedcapitalism.com), to take their production agriculture related content to for editing. It is almost always wrong on some seemingly incidental technical point that wouldn’t be seen as altering entire context but which destroys credibility with the industry as it sticks out to those inside it as evidence of total ignorance.

    In this case, that unfortunate problem actually made the title. Made the title of an otherwise exceptional piece. What I am sure Matt was referring to was the general practice of large scale, “factory” livestock production facilities and the myriad of problems for humans, animals, communities and the quality of food that they pose. Just needed a better word. But what rogooo points out, which I confirm, easily turns this entire article into laughing stock fodder for the agricultural industrial complex.

    The further removed from what is actually occuring on the land and in our barns the general public, much less the punditry and investigate journalists become the more prevelant this sort of unitentional misrepresentation becomes. All the while, the further industrialization of food explodes.

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  • Matt Stoller


    Take it up with the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. I quoted them.

  • Farmer

    While I don’t believe we should import child labor from other countries, I do believe that American citizens should be allowed to employ American youth on farms. I am a family farmer (we exist) and we are careful with what we have the youngsters do.

  • Manny

    Matt…I ‘d be more than happy to do that.

    I’d apprectiate an address or ph. # for a direct contact.

  • CL

    The law should be the same for all children. No young children should be made to work even if it’s a family farm. Otherwise you’ll see lots of “Duggar” families. Quivering will take on a whole new life; which of course, is exactly what the fanatics want. No birth control, no abortion, wife is beaten into submission and made into a slave along with her 30 children who work from sunup to sundown.

  • Fred

    The article doesn’t surprise me at all, and that includes the hypocrisy and irony by the right wing that includes the AFBF.
    What’s funny about the AFBF’s stand on this issue is not only do they actually know the dangers of those pits, but aren’t they supposedly acting on behalf of “farmers” and their best interests? But, they’re a generic(and arguably more extreme) wing of the Chamber of Commerce since their begining. They also rewarded one of their county managers in Seattle in 2010 at their 91st annual meeting/convention for developing a program to pass out 300 signs about the dangers of manure pits after 2 of his members(54 year old father, and his 20 year old son in July 2008) died in one on their own dairy farm. Here’s the link to it on THEIR site announcing it: http://www.fb.org/index.php?fuseaction=newsroom.newsfocus&year=2010&file=nr0110e.html
    But, this legislation is intended to protect employees and the more than likely(illegal)immigrants that fall into that category. They also supported amnesty for illegal immigrant farm workers that was signed into law by the right wing hero Ronald Reagan too, so those workers would continue to be exploited.
    You think that Rehberg would have paid for workman’s compensation insurage to cover his 10 year old neighbor, or that he paid employment taxes on him too? Or, does his state have a minimum age for employees as some do?

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  • Isobeauwest

    This article goes to show the ignorance of all who know nothing about farming. If you don’t live on a farm, if you don’t know how it works, then go home and keep your comments to yourself. There is not one bit of truth in this article. Even the quote is wrong. To debate means that you actually KNOW something about your topic before you just shoot your mouth off. I bet no one here even knows what a manure pit is. NO one gets in the D*** thing! NO ONE puts their kid in it! It is a huge round pit that during the winter months a farmer will push all the manure into with a skid loader. Then in the spring when it is full of liquid manure, big trucks come and suck the stuff out and spray it on their fields. Simple as that.

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