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MFU: Proposed Child Labor Laws Tangle with Family Farming

December 2, 2011

GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Farming and ranching in Montana is often a family affair - whether due to tradition or financial necessity. That fact is missing from some of the U.S. Department of Labor proposals to update child labor regulations, in the view of the Montana Farmers Union (MFU).

While the focus on safety is right on target, says MFU Project Specialist Chris Christiaens, the regulations need to recognize unique situations in the West. He believes the proposals could bar extended family from overseeing children and teens doing chores, or put a stop to learning how to safely operate farm equipment.

"We want to make sure that they are in line to be able to carry on, and carry forward the family farming and agriculture operation."

Agricultural safety for youth is a top issue, says Christiaens, but common sense is needed to avoid unintended consequences. And even when farm and ranch kids choose not to carry on the family agricultural tradition, the hands-on skills they learn are valuable in any workplace, he adds.

"Farm and ranch kids come with a work ethic. They have been working and taking responsibility from the time they were five and six years old. They love the outdoors and they have an appreciation for our land and our animals."

The MFU has submitted its official comments on the proposed regulations and encourages others with an interest in the issue to do the same, at www.dol.gov/whd/childlabor.htm.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT