The U.S. Department of Agriculture has withdrawn a rule that fresh produce advocates said would have had a chilling effect on the ability to sell to the agency.
The agency’s reversal came after a flurry of negative comments from business and farm groups were received about the Dec. 1 rule covering labor law violations to USDA contracts.
The Dec. 1 rule stipulated that all contractors doing business with the USDA certify that their own operations and the operations of their subcontractors are in compliance with all labor laws.
The rule would have set up a very difficult situation for fresh produce marketers, farm and industry leaders told the USDA.
“It is a well-known fact that a large portion of the labor force of the produce industry consists of workers who do not have the proper documentation,” Julie Manes, director of government relations for United Fresh Produce Association, said in Jan. 30 comments to the USDA. United Fresh urged USDA to withdraw the rule.
Manes said the industry has lobbied for an agricultural labor program that could supply a sufficient legal workforce but has not received it yet.
“Without such a program, this proposed language will be devastating to the produce industry as our members simply cannot continue to provide Americans, including those who directly benefit from USDA programs, without a plentiful supply of fresh fruits and vegetables without skilled and experienced farm labor,” she said.
Contacted Feb. 1, Manes said USDA apparently heard enough concern about the rule that they revisited the rule.
“We are glad they withdrew the rule,” Manes said. “That’s what we were hoping for.”
Manes said that the Obama administration has had other instances where proposed regulations were withdrawn because of overwhelming opposition, including the recently announced decision by the Department of Labor to take another look at parental exemption language in a proposed rule on child labor on the farm.