By Julia Perez

Many find it difficult to believe an estimated 300-400,000 American children work in U.S. agriculture legally. They work 10-14 hours days without protections afforded other children due to an exemption in the 1938 labor laws. Aside from the backbreaking work, the children face discrimination, a drop-out rate four times the national rate, pesticide exposure, and generational poverty.

I was one of these children. While I defeated the odds, dreams of myself as a voiceless child compelled me to try to change the law by advocating for the CARE Act H.R 2234. In the process of navigating D.C. politics and failing, I encountered U. Roberto Romano, international human rights advocate and director. This led to a three-year adventure and a stunning documentary, The Harvest [now on Netflix].

The documentary team included an incredible Executive Producer, Eva Longoria and Shine Global, a non-profit dedicated to films that raise awareness.

During filming across the U.S., what I found most startling is the children who replaced me in the fields were still facing similar conditions I escaped. The housing was substandard, with bathrooms often outside and barely shielding of the harsh elements.

The educational and health concerns, especially for children, are difficult to quantify because some of the effects are long-term.


Research indicates that children are less able to metabolize and excrete most toxic substances and their organ systems are more vulnerable because they are rapidly growing and developing.

In California, Jesus “Chuy”, age twelve, understands pesticides on a personal level given he lost his mother to lymphoma cancer in June 2010.  In a series of interviews Chuy shared his fear of pesticide exposure knowing he might return to the cherry orchards of Oregon.

Unsafe work environment:

Aside from the hazardous equipment there’s nature itself. Sandy of Texas said “I don’t know what I’d do if one of us was bitten by a rattle snake. The nearest hospital is more than an hour away.” Interviews with several out of school youth of Watsonville, California revealed disconcerting images of workers collapsing in the strawberry fields due to heat exhaustion.

Impact of moving, switching and/or missing school:

Studies show it takes a child 4-6 months to recover academically after switching schools. If a child switches in high school, they are 50 percent more likely not to finish.  We interviewed siblings who followed the crops in Texas, switching schools accordingly.  Maribel, age fifteen shared “To be honest, I still don’t understand division. I’ve felt behind since fourth grade.” Her brother Victor was so behind his teachers suggested he drop out, he did at age seventeen. Victor said “I always felt like I had to choose between school and work. I couldn’t do both.”

Photo Credit: Julia Perez, South Texas, March 2010

The pay is low, the hours long, and the work backbreaking. I thought of my own parents, as I took this picture of an elderly man still working in the fields. My parents continued working, in pain, until I became an engineer and could provide financial assistance. If I hadn’t been an exception to the rule, would I face the same fate, would I be old and gray, hunched over in the cold?

Yet, despite the realities many are unaware of the impact to minors or worse yet, oppose the CARE Act H.R. 2234 which simply seeks to provide equal protections for all our children.

What can we do? Become informed; host a screening or simply watch The Harvest if you don’t already understand this issue. Read about the laws which exclude the most vulnerable from equal protection. Learn more about the film, the policies, and possible actions at

Anyone can take a few minutes to write their representative and/or senator and ask them to Co-Sponsor the CARE Act H.R. 2234. Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard will re-introduce the bill in the 112th Congress. Let’s ensure our elected officials reflect our concerns.

While agriculture is often rural and isolated, anyone who eats may take pause to wonder if a child picked the food on their plate. People have privately told me there’s worse in other countries. Frankly, this is the United States of America, we can do better. I wish, I hope, I dream – we do. If we don’t speak for the voiceless, who will?

The above article first appeared in the National Latino Children’s Institute’s newsletter in December, 2012.


Julia Perez is an electrical engineer, writer and Associate Director of The Harvest.  She is currently writing Among the Forgotten which describes the behind the scenes challenges of filming and the untold stories of children in agriculture who are treated as separate and unequal.

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Harvest wins the Audience Award for Feature-Length Documentary and Special mention of the jury at Tutti nello stesso piatto in Italy!

From the citation:

For its ability to comprehend the urgency of a global problem, the exploitation of child labor, in the heart of civilization, the modern United States of America.

For its expert direction that captured with sensitivity the testimony of three children, 12 to 16 years old, who endure their lives as migrant workers with brutal awareness, living everyday life in a parallel world.

The director goes beyond a mere journalistic approach, using attentive and balanced observations of facts and people, paying careful attention to cinematography.

Per la capacità di cogliere l’urgenza di un problema globale, lo sfruttamento del lavoro minorile nella patria della civiltà, i moderni Stati Uniti e per l’esperta regia che sa mettere a fuoco con sensibilità documentaria la forza delle testimonianze di 3 bambini e ragazzi tra i 12 e i 16 anni che subiscono la loro condizione di lavoratori migranti in maniera spietatamente consapevole, conducendo la vita di tutti i giorni in un mondo parallelo. Il regista va oltre l’approccio giornalistico con sguardo sempre equilibrato e attento a fatti e a personaggi, con particolare cura degli aspetti cinematografici.

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Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-East Los Angeles) is calling for new protections for kids who work in agriculture, specifically large corporate farms across the United States. She is re-introducing a bill called the “Care Act,” to ensure that labor laws are the same for children in all industries, including agriculture.
To learn more about the CARE Act and the unequal child labor laws of the US please explore the legislation information on this site:
Read the full article about the renewed push:–175675301.html
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The Harvest/La Cosecha now available on DVD!

Directed by: U. Roberto Romano

USA | 80 mins | | In English and Spanish with English sub-titles | | | @theharvestdoc

“In its modest way, calls to mind Grapes of Wrath’”

- Mike Hale, The New York Times

WINNER - Outstanding Filmmaker – San Antonio Film Festival

WINNER – Audience Award Best Documentary – San Antonio Film Festival


NCLR ALMA Awards 2011


Organize a screening of THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA and share the plight of child migrant farm workers with your community.

Executive produced by Eva Longoria



There’s not a wasted frame in U. Roberto Romano’s documentary The Harvest, in which he illustrates the real costs of the produce on your grocer’s shelves”

-Ernest Hardy, Village Voice

Every year there are more than 400,000 American children who are torn away from their friends, schools and homes to pick the food we all eat.  From the Producers of the Academy-Award® nominated film WAR/DANCE and Executive Producer Eva Longoria, this award-winning documentary provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of these children who struggle to dream while working 12 – 14 hours a day, 7 days a week to feed America.  VIEW TRAILER

Check out our public screening options and choose a program that would work best for your organization for FOOD DAY 2012.


And, if you place an order by 10/10/2012 you can get 15% off by using code at checkout: FoodDay 2012

Here’s how to register an event with Food Day:


Distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. Shine Global is a 501(c)3 non-profit film production company.  All profits from their films are returned to the children documented through partner NGOs.  To make a donation click here

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Monday marked the beginning of Labor Rights Week in the US, lasting from August 27th-31st leading up to Labor Day.  This year’s theme determined by the US Department of Labor is “Promoting Labor Rights is Everyone’s Responsibility.”  This could not be more true, especially when it comes to the most vulnerables workers out there: the estimated 400,000 children who work as migrant farmworkers.

David Strauss, the Executive Director of AFOP (Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs) an organization we have worked with many times on the outreach for The Harvest/La Cosecha, wrote a wonderful blog post about America’s “Unfinished Business in the Fields.” Farmworkers make up about 2.5 million of our huge workforce performing work that is vital to our economy and to the food needs of our population. What the US needs to do is end the separate and unequal status of America’s farmworkers and bring them into parity with the rest of working Americans.

Watch this video message from Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis then be sure to reach out to your legislators and make sure they know there is work to be done:

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1 year old America in the fields with her family. Still from The Harvest/La Cosecha

House acts to stop rules for child labor on farms
July 24, 2012

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Tuesday barred the labor secretary from imposing new safety rules for children working on farms, putting a legal stamp on a Labor Department decision to put off action on the rules.

The Labor Department announced last April that it would not go ahead with the proposed rules, saying the decision was made “in response to thousands of comments” expressing concerns about their effect on small family-owned farms. It added that the rules would not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.

But bill sponsor, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, said that even with that assurance, legal action was necessary to make sure that federal bureaucrats in the future would not carry through with “misguided” regulatory attempts.

“The regulations imposed by the Department of Labor went beyond all common sense and would have destroyed opportunities for youth across the agricultural economy,” he said.

The Labor Department spent more than a year developing the new safety rules, which expanded and tightened existing regulations governing hired farm workers under the age of 16. The rules would have banned children younger than 16, except for student learners, from operating tractors and other power-driven machines; tightened restrictions on youth working with bulls and other potentially dangerous animals; and prohibited the hiring of those under the age of 18 for jobs in grain elevators, silos and stockyards.

The rules specifically exempted children working on their parents’ farms, but farm groups and farm state lawmakers said they ignored the realities of farm life and could affect children working on farms owned and operated by uncles, grandparents or other relatives.

The measure barring the new rules was approved by voice vote.

The only lawmaker to speak in opposition, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said it “prevents a rule that has already been prevented by special interests” and which would have increased protections in an industry that is one of the most hazardous for young people.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has introduced identical legislation in the Senate.

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By U. Roberto Romano

For the forgotten, whom we remember once a year…

If I were a poet, this would be my opening line.

But I am not a poet. I am a filmmaker and photographer who has spent more than a decade of my life documenting child labor around the world. I have filmed and photographed and spoken with children who pick the coffee beans we brew on plantations in Kenya, weave the carpets we walk on at looms in India, Pakistan and Nepal, dig for gold while suffocating in mines or dive to their deaths from fishing boats in Ghana. Children who are trafficked to and from Mexico and Thailand at age 12 or 14, and pushed into hotels by middle-aged johns while still bearing the scars of their beatings from their pimps, children on fishing platforms miles off the coast of Indonesia where they are trapped for three months at a time hauling in nets filled with teri (a fish that is the main ingredient of those multi colored crackers we dip into sweet sauce at Chinese restaurants around the world), child soldiers in Uganda forced to burn their families alive or amputate the arms and legs their siblings, trafficked children on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast who, far from home, bear the scars of the machetes they use so we can enjoy the sweet taste of chocolate. For me, child labor is, unfortunately, a target-rich environment. Even here in the United States of America there are hundreds of thousands of children planting and picking the fruits and vegetables that we eat.

Ten years ago, the ILO created World Day Against Child Labor, but for the 215 million children who work around the world, this day should be their day every day. And this should be the day where we also remember the 250,000 to 400,000 American children who are systematically exploited every year as they harvest the food that we eat.

They are there right now in our fields, working at far younger ages, for longer hours at exploitative wages and at greater risk to their health than any other children in America, because of a loophole in Federal law that permits children as young as 12, and sometimes younger, to work in 100-degree heat in a tomato field for 16 hours, but does not allow that child to work in an air-conditioned office until they are 16. And this should not be so.

In December of 2000, President Bill Clinton signed ILO Convention 182, the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. In June of 2000, Human Rights Watch issued its seminal report Fingers To The Bone: United States Failure To Protect Child Farmworkers. In 2001, Senator Tom Harkin re-introduced the CARE Bill (Children’s Act for Responsible Employment, which has been introduced every year since then, most recently by Representative Roybal-Allard), which would have brought us into compliance with Convention 182.

Yet in 2002 Len Morris and I documented numerous abuses of this convention in Texas while filming Stolen Childhoods, abuses that, sadly, continue to this day.

So while Senator Harkin points at Uzbek cotton and other crops and commodities as an example of the worst forms of child labor in a speech he gave before the Senate commemorating World Day Against Child Labor last year:

“The work performed by these children, stooped over to pick cotton under a hot sun, also falls under the category of hazardous work. Hazardous work is by its very nature likely to harm the health and safety of children. Hazardous work exposes children to physical, emotional, or even sexual abuse. It includes children working underground in mines, underwater, at dangerous heights, or in confined spaces. Children work with dangerous machinery, equipment, and tools. They may work in unhealthy environments, exposed to hazardous substances like nicotine in tobacco fields or to extreme temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations that can damage growing bodies. Some children are even forced to work such long hours that they are up for entire nights or are not allowed to return to their own home at the end of the day.”

The sad truth is we do little at home for our own children who work under similar conditions in our agricultural sector. The level of disconnect is stratospherically high.

Of the Eight Core ILO Conventions that most counties have signed onto, the United States has implemented only two and the Convention On The Rights of The Child, the most ratified Convention in the history of the ILO, has only three countries that haven’t ratified it. Somalia and Southern Sudan are two of them. Sadly, we are the third.

While the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs lists 130 goods from 71 countriesthat should be banned under the TVPRA, I have personally documented and spoken to American children who have done the same work under the same conditions for 17 of those goods here in this country. Even a proposed set of safety regulations aimed at minimizing harm to children hired to work in the fields, that would have regulated the kind of hazardous labor described above by Senator Harkin, were withdrawn in a heartbreaking about-face, by the Department of Labor on April 26 of this year. These new rules would have updated the decades-old list of tasks considered hazardous and therefore off limits for hired farmworkers under age 16, but over 180 elected officials in Washington stood in opposition to the first changes in agricultural safety regulations for children in 40 years, recommendations that National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health made nearly a decade ago. They include Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska along with Representatives Mike Lee of Utah and Denny Rehberg of Montana. In what can only be considered a part of a stunning campaign of disinformation sponsored by the Farm Bureau, Senator Mike Lee of Utah sponsored the Saving the Family Farm Act of 2012The family farm was never in danger.

Just as child labor was a sign of the social inequities of our Gilded Age, our child labor problem in agriculture exposes our own excesses. The failure of the Fair Labor Standards Act to protect children in agriculture has deep roots. Some say it was to protect the family farm (there is that term again), but when you look at history, you get closer to the heart of the truth when you understand that those who picked our crops then and now were the victims of racial and class exclusion. As Marjorie Elizabeth Wood pointed out in her excellentOp-Ed piece for the New York Times:

“This is not the first time reform of agricultural child labor laws has been beaten back by a supposed threat to the family farm. In the 1920s a proposed Child Labor Amendment to the Constitution was fiercely contested. The amendment would have given Congress power to regulate the labor of people under age 18. But by orchestrating a sophisticated campaign that included front groups with names such as Citizens’ Committee to Protect Our Homes and Children, business interests frightened farm families with propaganda about a government conspiracy to forbid chores on the family farm.”

In Fields of Peril, the 2010 report for Human Rights Watch, written by Zama Coursen-Neff and photographed by me, we again learned that agriculture is the most dangerous work open to children in the United States, where 12- to 16-year-olds—and on small farms children of any age—can be hired. These migrant and seasonal child farmworkers, who are at the heart of my recent documentary, The Harvest/La Cosecha, drop out of school at four times the national average, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and social failure. They suffer the same abuses that we do not tolerate anywhere else in the world.

So on this day where we acknowledge our commitment to eliminating the worst forms of child labor globally by 2016, the continued lack of support for the CARE Bill and this administration’s promise not to revisit the revised safety standards mean that the United States will continue to remain non-compliant, even though nearly 90% of Americans polled say that they would pay more for their food to in an effort to treat farmworkers better and end the cycle of poverty that continues to push our own children into the field.

Nelson Mandela once said “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

What I have known for a decade is that where children in American agriculture are concerned, the soul of America is languishing.

My friend Jason Guest sent me Proverbs 31:8-9 in an e-mail last week. It instructs us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

On this day when we are asked to stand up for the children of the world, we need to ask ourselves: “where is our sense of grace when we say grace?” Let us remember and speak up for the American children who are sacrificing their futures so that we can eat.


U.R. RomanoProducer, Director, Director of Photography, U.R. (Robin) Romano made The Harvest/La Cosecha, feature documentary, produced by Shine Global, on the life of migrant children and their families in America. Romano was co-director (with Miki Mistrati) and director of photography on Dark Side of Chocolate, a feature documentary, produced by Bastard Films – Denmark, on slavery in the West Africa cocoa trade and co-director (with Len Morris) and director of photography on Stolen Childhoods, a feature documentary on child labor for Galen Films and Romano Productions.

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Dolores Huerta and Dir. U Roberto Romano

Dolores Huerta and Dir. U Roberto Romano at a 2011 DC Screening of The Harvest/La Cosecha (photo credit Bruce Guthrie)

Dolores Huerta, a civil rights advocate and labor leader who fought for farmworkers rights alongside César Chavez, was honored with one of the nation’s highest civilian honors — the Presidential Medal of Freedom– on Tuesday.

“I was humbled, thrilled, and surprised,” she said. “I never expected to be nominated.” For more than 50 years, activist Dolores Huerta has worked tirelessly to advance the cause of marginalized communities. She is internationally recognized as a feminist, a farm worker advocate, a gay rights activist, and a labor leader. Alongside activist César Chávez, Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, and then served as the first vice president of the United Farm Workers. As a fearless advocate for civil rights, Huerta has been arrested twenty-two times, and has been severely beaten by police while protesting.

Huerta is now 82 years old, a mother to 11 children, and grandmother to seven. Huerta considers some of her proudest accomplishments to be, “Spanish-language ballots for voters, public assistance for immigrants, toilets in the fields, drinking water protection from pesticides,” and an immigration act which gave legal status to over a million farmworkers. She continues to work tirelessly developing leaders and advocating for the working poor, women and children. As voluntary President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she travels across the country speaking to students and organizations about issues of social justice and public policy.

“The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized, and took direct action. It is this right that sustains and nurtures our democracy today. The civil rights movement, the labor movement, the women’s movement, and the equality movement for our LGBT brothers and sisters are all manifestations of these rights. I thank President Obama for raising the importance of organizing to the highest level of merit and honor. It is a unique honor and privilege to be included in this group of distinguished individuals being honored here today and the communities they represent” she said in a statement.

Dolores Huerta spoke at the June 2011 Washington DC screening of Shine Global’s film The Harvest/La Cosecha delivering a heartfelt statement of support for the film and for the ongoing effort to improve the lives of farmworker children and farmworker rights in general, urging every person to take action on these pressing issues.

She has received numerous awards among them the Eleanor Roosevelt Humans Rights Award from President Clinton in 1998, Ms. Magazine’s one of the three most important women of 1997, Ladies Home Journal’s 100 most important woman of the 20th Century, Puffin Foundation award for Creative Citizenship Labor Leader Award 1984, Kern County’s Woman of The Year by California State legislature,the Ohtli award from the Mexican Government, Smithsonian Institution – James Smithson Award, and Nine Honorary Doctorates from Universities throughout the United States. Huerta received the Presidential Medal of Freedom alongside 12 others, including Bob Dylan and Madeleine Albright.

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We would like to congratulate Julia Perez, the Associate Director of our documentary film The Harvest/La Cosecha (2011), for being honored with a Latino Spirit Award by the California Latino Legislative Caucus. The Spirit Awards recognize those individuals who exemplify the spirit of the Latino community and have contributed to the State of California. The honorees have been found to have furthered the understanding and acceptance of Latino values, culture and traditions through leadership and service. This year’s recipients include pioneers in film, literature, art and public service, among other categories. Many have overcome tremendous obstacles, rising to become role models and community leaders.  Past honorees include: Carlos Santana, Grammy Award winning recording artist; Rita Moreno, the first artist to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award, Dolores Huerta, Co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union and Tom Flores, former coach and player with the Oakland Raiders.

Julia Perez is an electrical engineer and an Arizona native. “I was 5 years old when I started working in the fields with my parents. We lived in 10 different states and I was the first in my family of ten brothers and sisters to get an education and to get out of the fields,” said Pérez.  Her personal experience in the fields helped her connect with the families and children she and director U Roberto Romano interviewed over the course of filming. “I was able to relate to these families on a very personal level. I was in their shoes so many years ago and yet, I find that nothing has changed. Young children are still working in the fields and getting exposed to dangerous pesticides which in the long term could have life-threatening consequences. Children simply should not be working in the fields at such a young age and that is the bottom line,” said Pérez.

For ten days each month in the following three years, Pérez traveled throughout the United States interviewing migrant families and their children, asking them questions, capturing their hard work on camera and learning about their hopes for a better future.

“I had a child tell me once, ‘I didn’t know I was allowed to have dreams,’”said Pérez. “For a child to be making statements like this in the land of opportunity was astonishing to me. Our children should be getting an education, not uprooting every season from state to state to work under such brutal conditions,” said Pérez.

Migrant labor is one of many reasons why Latinos are not faring well in education, she believes. High school drop out rates among Latinos continue to worsen and are at an all-time high while college admissions low, but in the migrant community, those numbers are worse.

“Sixty-five percent of migrant children drop out of high school compared to the average Latino student and that is a terrible thing for our community. We are losing future doctors, engineers and lawyers,” said Pérez.

“I think there needs to be a fundamental change in agriculture. We have huge agriculture corporations like Cargill who have annual revenues in the billions and it’s on the backs of many migrant children. There needs to be a federal change,” said Pérez.

The Latino Legislative Caucus is comprised of twenty-seven members: nine Senators and eighteen Assembly Members. It is one of the most influential organizations within the California State Legislature. Its members hold strategic leadership positions and focus primarily on improving the quality of life for working families in California. Currently, due to the changing demographics of California, it is apparent that the issues affecting Latinos in California are issues that affect all Californians.

In 2001, the Latino Caucus saw a need to recognize and honor distinguished Latinos for their contributions and dedication to California and the United States’ economy and cultural life with the annual Latino Spirit Awards. These recipients are outstanding individuals who have greatly contributed to the wonderful music, poetry, literature, journalism, community action, and entertainment of California, the United States, and the world.

For more info please read:

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1 year old America in the fields with her family. Still from The Harvest/La Cosecha

It is with great sadness that we report that the US Department of Labor has withdrawn its proposed rule to protect children under 16 working in agriculture, seemingly under pressure from the Obama administration. The restrictions on child labor the DOL had sanctioned, based on expert research and proposed in mid-2011, would have added prohibitions on operating additional heavy machinery, working in silos and grain storage facilities, handling all pesticides, and working in the production of tobacco for children under 16 years of age.

Farms that were owned or operated by families would have been exempt. Somehow this fact was lost on opponents and in the wake of tremendous opposition to the proposed rules from assorted farm organizations and lobbies, Senators Thune and Moran proposed the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act.

Shine Global wants to express its very great disappointment in this decision by the DOL. There are hundreds of thousands of American children working under unspeakably harsh, and often very dangerous, work conditions that are unheard of in most other occupations. Somehow, the fact that these youngsters are poor and overwhelmingly Latino disallows them to receive the protections they need and deserve. We urge all who care to express their views to their Congressional representatives.

For more information on this issue check out the facts and legislation pages  and also see the Human Rights Watch announcement


WHD News Release: [04/26/2012]
Contact Name: Joshua R. Lamont or Elizabeth Alexander
Phone Number: (202) 693-4661 or x4675
Release Number: 12-0826-NAT

Labor Department statement on withdrawal of proposed rule dealing with children who work in agricultural vocations

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor today issued the following statement regarding the withdrawal of a proposed rule dealing with children who work in agricultural vocations:

“The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.

“As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.

“The decision to withdraw this rule — including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ — was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.

“Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders — such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H — to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”

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