Agricultural exceptionalism is a term used to describe the special status awarded to employers and firms involved in agriculture, according to a recent Pump Handle post written by Celeste Monforton, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health. Proponents argue that the special status is necessary because (1) agricultural products contribute to broad national goals (e.g., providing safe and affordable food, preventing hunger); and (2) farming is inherently risky because of the uncertainty of weather and pests.
This exceptionalism allows employers, for example, to provide lesser protection and benefits to their workers compared to what is given to workers employed in non-agriculture industries. Agricultural exceptionalism is both a global and national phenomenon. In the U.S., its manifestations include statutory exemptions for employers from paying overtime to farmworkers, and from being subject to OSHA inspections if they have fewer than 11 employees who do not live on-site. Farm workers also do not have the right to bargain collectively about working conditions. This special status even extends to children working on U.S. farms. Youngsters under age 16 are allowed to perform a myriad of dangerous tasks if they are working as farm labor; comparable tasks in other industries are off-limits to children until they are age 18.