Horse Owners Gather in Austin to Protest Vet Board’s Anti-Competitive Teeth-Floating Rule

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 20, 2010

Austin, Texas—Hundreds of Texans are in danger of losing their jobs if the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners passes a new rule that will drastically limit who horse owners can hire to service their own horses.

Texas horse owners and horse teeth floaters will rally in Austin today to oppose a new rule proposed by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.  Following the hearing, there will be a press conference and rally across the street in Republic Square Park.

Horse teeth “floating” is a common animal husbandry practice involving the filing down of sharp enamel points that can develop on a horse’s molars, preventing the animal from properly chewing its food.  Horse teeth floaters—many of whom have been practicing their trade for decades—make their living by providing this service to more than one million horses across Texas.

The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, the state agency that regulates veterinarians, has proposed a new rule that effectively mandates the hiring of a licensed veterinarian to perform this basic service.  The proposed new rule would allow non-veterinarian practitioners to float horses’ teeth with hand tools only, but require them to work under the direct supervision of a state-licensed veterinarian when using power instruments, which have been around for more than a century and are generally considered both safer and easier to work with than manual rasps.

The timing of the vet board’s proposed rule has raised eyebrows.  A group of individual teeth floaters and horse owners filed a legal challenge to an earlier attempt by the vet board to shut them down by issuing cease-and-desist letters ordering non-veterinarian practitioners to stop working and, in effect, turn over their thriving businesses to state-licensed veterinarians.  After admitting that it failed to comply with mandatory rulemaking procedures—and within days of a court hearing to determine the legal consequences of that omission—the board suddenly introduced the new rule requiring veterinary supervision of floaters using power tools.

Notably, the public notice prepared by the vet board in support of the new rule is based on many assertions and conclusions for which the board has no evidence and many of which are, to the contrary, flatly contradicted by the board’s own findings.  To take just one example, in a 2004 report, the vet board acknowledged that “[t]here are not enough veterinarians skilled in equine dentistry to meet the public’s needs,” in part because “[m]ost veterinarians do not feel comfortable performing dental procedures.”

“For reasons having nothing to do with public or animal welfare and everything to do with stifling fair competition, the vet board is now seeking to pass a rule that will effectively hand over the practice of teeth floating in Texas to state-licensed veterinarians,” said Clark Neily, an attorney with the Institute for Justice and lead counsel for the plaintiffs.  Neily explained that “one risk of having a government agency run by the very practitioners it seeks to regulate is bureaucrats concocting anti-competitive licensing regulations to promote the interests of their fellow licensees, the way the vet board has done here by trying to put teeth floaters out of business for no good reason.”

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