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GOP Senator: We Need ‘Child Labor’ To Fight Obesity Epidemic

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"GOP Senator: We Need ‘Child Labor’ To Fight Obesity Epidemic"

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

At a recent town hall in Osage, Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) responded to a question about the Labor Department’s stricter limits on child labor by claiming that they could exacerbate the child obesity epidemic by making kids less “active”:

Concern was raised about the proposed Department of Labor’s intent to greatly limit child labor on family farms.

“This farm bill will greatly affect our FFA and 4-H programs,” said Grassley. “Kids won’t be able to help on farms not owned by their parents.

It’s interesting that this child labor bill goes against Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative,” said Grassley. “How can kids be active if they are limited by this law?

Grassley represents a farm state that both relies on child labor and contributes to the national obesity epidemic through its production of corn products like high-fructose corn syrup. Iowa farmers benefit from billions of dollars in corn subsidies that allow them to put a glut of cheap, unhealthy foods on the market.

As for his Dickensian defense of child labor, that’s sadly par for the course for Republicans these days. Several GOP-led states have rolled back child labor laws. In December, seventy rural state lawmakers led by Rep. Danny Rehberg (R-MT) denounced the Labor Department’s new protections for the country’s most vulnerable workers. They argued that hard manual labor teaches children important “life lessons.”

Under current law, 400,000 children working on farms are not protected from exploitation and dangerous labor. The proposed rules would forbid children younger than 16 from working with pesticides, timber operations, handling “power-driven equipment, or contributing to the “cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.”

Contrary to Grassley’s suggestion, the physical activity children endure during farm labor is no picnic. The fatality rate for child farm workers is four times higher than that of nonagricultural child workers.

Many Republicans have mocked First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity initiative, but Grassley in particular has powerful financial motivations for supporting some of epidemic’s worst culprits. As a member of the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry committee, he’s raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Food & Beverage, Food Processing & Sales, and Agricultural Services and Products industries.

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