Since the child-labor-on-farms issue gained traction last fall, “it’s grown like a grassfire,” said Gasparini. “It really caught on fire when livestock producers in the South, Midwest and West caught wind of the proposed change. Last I heard the DOL had received over 15,000 comments. Some have claimed there have been over 20,000 comments.”

Even so, Gasparini urges caution over the DOL move. “They could walk the proposed rule back and then drag their feet for months or years. That isn’t the style of DOL, so much, though. And I don’t know they’d have support for that approach from the (Obama) administration. … This is an election year and any regulation issue becomes red meat for the campaigning process.

In practical terms, “it probably means the DOL will go back and look at this for several months. They’ll make some efforts – maybe a lot of effort – to mitigate. At the very least, it delays everything for months, maybe longer.”

The NCAE is not anti-regulation, insists Gasparini. However, “regulations should be written to address genuine, documented issues and improve outcomes – not just prohibit activities because they might be dangerous, or have been in the past. Proposed regulations need to be useable, workable and must not cause more harm than good to the regulated community.

“This is a hopeful development. … Maybe the DOL has listened to the rural community. But we can’t complain about having more time to participate in the debate.”

Those comments were largely echoed by Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. While the re-proposal “is a positive step, much more work is needed. We will continue to work with the (Obama) administration to address our concerns with the rule. Any final regulation must make sense, not infringe on the traditional rights of family farms and not unnecessarily restrict the ability of young people to work in agriculture. As DOL’s proposed rule stands currently, that is not the case.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the DOL had “listened to farmers and ranchers across the country. This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe.” 

The National Farmers Union also approved of the DOL’s move. “Farming is a lifestyle that is passed down from generation to generation, so it is critical that farmers are able to teach their children how to perform the work safely and responsibly,” said Roger Johnson, NFU president. “No one is more concerned about the safety of young workers than their parents and other family members. Current rules and regulations allow adequate flexibility for parents to teach their children about agriculture while still ensuring that young workers are safe. Even more important are the values, work ethic, and life lessons which are an enormous contribution to society and to our country.”

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is “glad (DOL) heard my concerns and the concerns of so many families in Michigan and decided to re-evaluate this rule. … Of course there should be safeguards to protect children from dangerous situations, but there needs to be an understanding that many children in rural communities learn about safety by helping their family on the farm.”

More information can be found on the Department of Labor’s Web site.