Anthrax fines 'nothing short of craziness' DVM says


Anthrax fines 'nothing short of craziness' DVM says

Apr 01, 2002

Falfurias, Texas-Dr. Michael Vickers changed the law on disposing of diseased food animal carcasses for rural veterinarians in Texas, but his battle with a Texas government agency still presses on.

Vickers was fined $9,000 by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for burning carcasses infected with anthrax and other diseases. It is the recommended method of disposal for diseased animals, and Vickers says he calls the fines nothing short of craziness.

He is motivated to fight on. "I am going to take them to the mat on this one," he tells DVM Newsmagazine.

Vickers was the veterinarian who first discovered the Ames strain of anthrax, which was implicated in killing five people last fall due to letter terrorism attacks.

His case made it all the way to the New York Times, which is a long way from Falfurias near Austin; his hospital, however, Las Palmas Veterinary Hospital, is about one mile down the interstate.

Vickers tells DVM Newsmagazine that officials from the state agency were concerned that the smoke from the carcasses being incinerated in an open pit was creating a nuisance. The agency also said that these carcasses were really classified as municipal solid waste and should be disposed of in a landfill.

World Health Organization guidelines call for incineration as the recommended form of disposal for suspected anthrax.

It is a disease that is not new to south Texas. In fact, 20 counties, over the last couple of years, have had anthrax cases in animals.

Vickers adds he has incinerated animals infected with rabies, brucellosis and anthrax, and therefore, simply will not comply due to the threat of disease spread.

"I said 'you people are crazy. I am not going to put these organisms into a dumpster and send them down the road to kill somebody unsuspecting who is handling this garbage.' I am not going to put these organisms in a landfill that could infect and kill somebody generations from now, when that landfill becomes a developed area."

Compelling arguments

His arguments were so compelling, a new law was crafted and implemented to give veterinarians in counties of populations of 10,000 or fewer the ability to dispose of carcasses as they see fit.

Vickers says that the change to the law wouldn't have happened without the help of Johnny B. Rogers of the Texas General Practitioners Association, a veterinary organization of a few hundred rural practitioners. Two state legislators made it happen too, Senator Judith Zaffirini and Rep. Rick Green, Vickers says.

So, what did it cost? Vickers says prosecuting him for a $9,000 fine cost the state an estimated $100,000. Vickers hired a lawyer. Fortunately for him, the lawyer, a friend for many years, also owns 100-head of cattle, 50 dogs and 20 horses. According to Vickers, they have agreed to exchange professional services.

No guff

Vickers isn't taking any guff either about the matter. "They are wrong," he says emphatically. "They are trying to force me to break my veterinarian's oath. They are trying to get me to endanger the lives of human beings and other animals and wildlife populations by this stand. This is much larger than a fine for Mike Vickers. This is an indictment of public health."

Vickers adds, "I am the first one they have ever come after. If I lose this case, I guarantee you, I won't be the last."

Vickers administrative hearing on the fines is set for July. He adds, that the law needs to be changed regardless of the outcome to his case.

"Veterinarians are the first people to come into contact with these pathogenic germs, and veterinarians need to be the first people to destroy them."