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Rules blocking youth farm labor withdrawn

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A wave of opposition from lawkmakers, farmers and residents from New York state helped fuel a national grass-roots effort to withdraw proposed regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor preventing children from working on family-owned farms and operating hazardous equipment.

The regulations, which the department withdrew Thursday, would have banned children younger than 16 from performing hazardous work on farms owned by relatives other than their parents, including the use of tractors and other power-driven equipment.

Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, began fighting to nix the regulations last year after hearing about them at a public meeting in Watertown, where a 10-year-old boy said he could be prevented from working on his family’s farm. Calling the regulations “out of touch,” Mr. Owens said farmers already are doing an excellent job training their children at an early age.

“This is an example of a bad regulation with a good intention,” Mr. Owens said. “The department was not in touch with what was happening on the ground.”

Mr. Owens said the regulations could have had a widespread impact on the 36,000 family-owned farms throughout New York that rely on young workers for labor.

“It could have had a dramatic impact on small farms and even large farms, and we were happy to get it withdrawn quickly,” he said.

Lawmakers partnered with the New York Farm Bureau to get the word out to the public. After the effort was under way, Congress received thousands of letters from farmers across the country opposing the regulations, Farm Bureau spokesman Matt Nelligan said. He called the withdrawal of the regulations a “grass-roots victory.”

“This is a great example of how out of touch the federal government can be,” Mr. Nelligan said. “These regulations were so bizarre, and they struck at the center of farmers’ way of life, making them reach out to elected officials. People from across the state and all walks of life were opposing it.”

The regulations were strongly opposed by farmers in the north country, said Jay M. Matteson, agricultural coordinator for the Jefferson County Agricultural Development Corp. The Jefferson County Board of Legislators, for example, was in the process of approving a resolution to oppose the regulations.

“We were seeing a strong response here in Jefferson County with people writing letters and getting the word out,” he said. “This was a misguided effort to regulate an industry that didn’t need it. It would have taken a slice out of the American apple pie by restricting the opportunities for families to have their children learn more about agriculture.”

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