By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Obama administration proposal to restrict child labor on farms has been withdrawn after criticism from agricultural groups.
The rules, which were supported by child labor advocates, would have banned children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors, if they had not taken a training course.
The proposal also would have prevented those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.
The Labor Department said it had received thousands of comments about the rule and its effect on small family-owned farms.
"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," it said in a statement posted on its website on Thursday.
The departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with such organizations as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the 4-H farm youth group to develop programs to reduce accidents for young workers, it said.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, welcomed the move, calling it "the right decision for our nation's family-based agriculture system."
But Reid Maki, coordinator for the Child Labor Coalition, said the rules had been aimed at protecting children drawing wages and did not apply to children working on their parents' farms.
Farm work is the most dangerous sector for young workers and pulling the proposed rule could mean another 50 to 100 deaths over the next decade, he said.
"We think they (the rules) were really well designed and would have saved some lives," he said.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Beech)