Before turning 12 last year, Julie Slind learned all a girl her, age in western Washington state needed to know about federal regulations: you ignored them in order to pick raspberries for pay.
Dr. Robert Slind, her father, encouraged Julie. He is one of many parents and berry growers in the Pacific Northwest who've gone sour on a law barring children under 12 from picking the pesticide-sprayed berries.
Last week, members of the Washington and Oregon congressional delegations, in letters to Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan, urged the Reagan administration to initiate changes in the law. The group, including the senators from each state, wants the issue resolved by next summer's berry season.
Julie Slind's lesson in civil disobedience stemmed from what many northwesterners see as a perfect local example of the misguided federal intrusion President Reagan has vowed to abolish. They concede it's not the nation's most glaring case, but in one Washington state berry grower's words, "It will show just how fine a comb they're using to go through these regulations."
To scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency, the berry issue involves a new and difficult area of research. "There is a special problem of the effects of [agricultural chemicals] on pre-puberty children that this agency has never really addressed before," said EPA toxicologist Chris Chase,
But the health question is only one element in a complex story.
The local reality is an exception to the kinds of abuses in mines and factories that first prompted social reformers to pass laws regulating child labor.
In the Northwest, berry picking has long been a hallowed custom that puts spending money in kids' pockets and provides farmers with temporary labor for an especially short season of two to four weeks.
Julie Slind earned $150 in the berry fields last summer.
Julie is 13 now, and can pick berries legally. But her younger brother, Todd, 11, was as undeterred by the law this summer as she was the year before. His father simply didn't write his age on the record the Labor Department requires growers to keep.
"It wasn't an easy decision to do that," Slind said, "There was an ethical question. The law says one thing and you have a sense of it being important to follow the law. But this law makes no sense. The consensus was 'Fooey, do it anyway.'"
Julie felt the same way. "I picked berries last year because I didn't feel the law was right . . . . Usually when you're 11 or 12 years old and you live on the west side of Mount Vernon you go to work picking berries."
The disputed regulation, part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1974, also applies to other shortterm crops, such as strawberries, blueberries and cucumbers, frequently harvested by children.
In 1977, Washington state legislators pushed an amendment to the 1974 act, hoping to permit the Labor Department to issue waivers to berry growers. But then-senator Jacob K. javits (R-N.Y.) would not accept the measure unless it included language saying 10-and 11-year-olds could not pick unless the growers proved that chemicals on the crops were absolutely safe.
The growers won short-lived victories when federal court judges let 10-and 11-year-olds pick in 1978 and 1979, but a federal appeals court here last March upheld the strict environmental standard against which all waiver applications must be judged.