08 Aug Putting down Geronimo the alpaca is the right decision, cabinet minister says | UK News
The decision to put down an alpaca who has tested positive for bovine tuberculosis is the right one, the environment secretary has said – despite its owner pleading with the government to intervene.
Geronimo, a six-year-old alpaca, has tested positive for the disease twice and the High Court has previously ruled he should be put down.
But his owner, Helen Macdonald, whose farm is in Wickwar, South Gloucestershire, disputes the test results and insisted she will “stand in the way of any gunman who comes to destroy Geronimo”.
She asked Boris Johnson to step in to stop Geronimo from being sent to die – but minister George Eustice has said the government cannot accept her request.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, Mr Eustice said that while it is “soul-destroying” to have to kill animals, it is the right decision to stop the spread of bovine TB.
“While there are moments of joy and optimism in farming, every livestock farmer has to get used to their share of tragedy and loss,” he wrote.
Mr Eustice, who is a former farmer, says he has looked at the alpaca’s case several times over the past three years and that the test used on Geronimo is “over 99% accurate with a false positive in only 0.34% of cases”.
“In around 30% of cases, it won’t detect an infection even when one is present. Two consecutive positive test results is a very strong indicator of the presence of the disease,” he said.
He also spoke about the dangers of the disease to livestock and blamed Tony Blair’s government for “inaction”.
“Bovine TB was a huge problem for our cattle industry during the last century and it took several decades in the post-war years to finally get it under control,” he said.
“However, a combination of inaction during the Blair years, coupled with increased cattle movements in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis, led to a sharp rise in the incidence of the disease at the beginning of the millennium, and we have been wrestling with that over the past decade.”
The minister added that, while there has been focus on Geronimo’s case, 500 animals are removed from herds in England each week due to the infection.
“Behind every one of those cases is a farmer who has suffered loss and tragedy,” he added.
Earlier this week, Ms Macdonald said she would continue to dispute the test results.
“It’s a total load of lies, the testing has never been validated,” she said.
“He’s still standing by such a ridiculous claim because they’ve made errors of judgment and they’ve been caught out.
“If he’s willing to kill a healthy animal in front of the whole world without testing him properly first, then it’s a sorry state of affairs.
“And it will be for the world to see. Because if he sends some poor person down here with a gun to shoot Geronimo then it will get filmed by the world’s media.”
More than 80,000 people have signed a petition asking the prime minister to step in, while nearly £19,000 has been donated towards legal costs.
Ms Macdonald has been embroiled in a legal battle with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since 2017, but the case has gained traction since a second death warrant came into effect on Thursday after a final High Court bid to save him failed.
Bovine TB is mainly a respiratory disease that is spread through nose to nose contact, and also through contact with saliva, urine, faeces and milk.
In 2018, there were 4,395 new herd incidents of the disease in Britain, and 44,656 animals were slaughtered due to bovine TB.