Ever since federal penalties totaling $1.5 million were imposed earlier this year on 13 meat plants contracting in eight states with Packers Sanitation Services Inc. for employing children in critical food safety jobs, the story has not gone away.

Child labor restrictions typically fall under federal or state Labor Departments. Still, there’s now been confirmation that both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, through the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are now fully engaged in child labor investigations.

On the night of Oct. 4, Homeland Security and FBI agents teamed up for a raid on Gerber’s Poultry in Kidron, OH, with two dozen children found, mostly said to be from Guatemala. The more than two dozen minors were illegally employed in both meat processing and sanitation.

The raid keeps the food industry in general and, specifically, the meat industry, front and center just as criminal investigators get serious. The U.S. Department of Labor alone has 800 child labor investigations underway with 5,792 minors found working in violations of the law.

All this activity has attracted the attention of Congress. 

A bipartisan bill in the Senate from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, would prevent child labor violators from getting federal contracts. Violators would have to disclose past violators.   

Another Senate bill by Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, would eliminate the loophole caused by subcontractors like those provided by PSSI. It would also increase civil fines to $151,380 for each child violation, up from the current $11,000.

Murray would increase criminal fines to a $750,000 maximum from the current $10,000. The Secretary of Labor would be empowered to hold labor goods produced with child labor and issue stop-work orders against companies violating the law.

Joining as sponsors on the Murray bill are Sen. Bob Casey, D-PA, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-CT. 

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)