Broad exclusions leave husbandry undefined

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Legislation introduced in Texas would define an undetermined amount of livestock care as "husbandry" outside the scope of veterinary medicine, and concerns over a similarly broad definition in an Oklahoma law led to negotiations and legislation to more precisely define the term.

Chris Copeland, executive director of the Texas VMA, noted that Texas House Bill 721 would allow anyone to perform "animal husbandry" on horses and livestock and broadly defines husbandry to include animal care, breeding, management, and marketing. Because of the broad definition of husbandry, Copeland said the legislation could allow someone with no training, education, or license to perform a wide range of veterinary procedures, possibly including surgery.

"I would hope that the animal owner would understand the need for the use of the veterinarian, but I can't say that there wouldn't be those who would look to nonveterinarians to provide some of these services," Copeland said.

Copeland stressed that the Texas VMA's opposition to the bill extends beyond protecting veterinarians' income.

"Texas veterinarians are very sincere in their concerns about what is going to happen to the animals if we continue to take pieces of the veterinary licensing act away and just allow anyone to go out and provide these services," Copeland said.

He also expressed concern that because of a lack of knowledge of animal diseases, including reportable ones, nonveterinarians might fail to recognize or report diseases, increasing the risk of public health problems.

The Texas bill was filed Jan. 19 and referred to the Texas House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock Feb. 22.

Legislation signed into law in Oklahoma in April 2010 allows nonveterinarians to become certified to perform equine dental work and exempts animal husbandry from the Oklahoma Veterinary Practice Act. But the bill didn't define "husbandry," said Dr. Calvin R. White, immediate past president of the Oklahoma VMA.

Subsequent regulations and litigation related to reproduction practices, including embryo transfer and pregnancy diagnosis, led to negotiations and some agreement among the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, the Oklahoma VMA, and the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, Dr. White said.

Tyler Norvell, vice president of public policy for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, said the 2010 legislation included provisions on animal husbandry because bureau members wanted protections for people who performed practices they learned in animal science courses, including artificial insemination and embryo transfer. He said the measure was also needed to deal with a shortage of veterinarians.

"My members prefer to use a veterinarian and can't find them in a rural area," Norvell said.

Oklahoma House Bill 1310, which passed in the state house in February, would define husbandry to include activities such as dehorning, branding, castration, nonsurgical artificial insemination, and pregnancy diagnosis by means of rectal palpation. It would allow nonveterinarians with advanced degrees to seek certification from the Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to perform embryo transfers and ultrasound pregnancy diagnosis. Until July 2012, some laypersons with bachelor's degrees and experience performing embryo transfers could also gain certification.

The bill was referred to the state senate's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee March 14.