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Agriculture, Child Labor, and Monocultures

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Big agriculture is going to the mat for what really matters–exploiting child labor.

Last year, two teenagers handling a large grain auger had their legs severed while working at the Zaloudek Grain Co. in Oklahoma. The Department of Labor (DOL) proposed rules that might have prevented this tragedy. The rules, designed to curb dangerous child labor in agriculture, were finally unveiled last year after a long delay. The labor changes would preventchildren from working in harsh conditions, including operating heavy machinery.

But as Republic Report noted earlier this year, agricultural industry lobbyists have worked aggressively to cut the DOL’s ability to implement this regulation. We showed how Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), backed by campaign contributions and lobbying support from the farm lobby, circulated a letter to undercut the child labor rules. Now, Senator John Thune (R-SD) has a bill — euphemistically called the Preserving America’s Family Farm Act — that would revoke the DOL’s authority to prevent children from working on farms in dangerous conditions, including in manure pits.

Anytime Denny Rehberg and John Thune are behind a bill, you know it serves the interests of evil.

Speaking of agriculture, Dan Charles has an excellent story at NPR about how agriculture has tried to eliminate e coli outbreaks–by doubling down on the agriculture monoculture, seeking to kill animal in the fields and every plant that might provide the animals shelter. This classically high-modernist approach to agriculture has had major repercussions of its own, including a vast increase in erosion and declining wildlife habitat. It also suggests that the extreme management of the land for a single purpose, even food safety, might not be the best way to think about nature. It is highly unlikely problems with e coli and agribusiness stem from mice or owls; instead, while no one knows how the e coli got in the spinach, it probably comes from somewhere in the industrialized agriculture process. Eliminating the species that naturally occur in fields inherently makes little sense for a healthy nature. But of course, that’s not what agricapitalism has in mind. Any threat to the short-term profit motive must be eliminated, even if it undermines the long-term viability of the industry.

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