Alpaca Geronimo is victim of government's 'kill at all costs' policy, says farmer
A FARMER has spoken of her frustration that the government is "refusing to listen" to reason over an alpaca it ordered to be killed.
Helen MacDonald, who runs a farm in Wickwar, and her alpaca Geronimo are at the centre of a court battle over whether he has bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
Geronimo, above, tested positive more than two years ago, after being imported from New Zealand. Helen claims the result is a false positive, because Geronimo's immune system was responding to injections of Tuberculin which he received as part of the skin test carried out in New Zealand for bTB surveillance and for his export to the UK.
She says if Geronimo really had the disease he would be dead by now – and would have affected the other animals he has been quarantined with.
But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insists that the alpaca has the disease and must be put down, despite Helen's pleas for officials to look again at the evidence. She says the department has a 'kill at all costs' policy which is not fair and reasonable.
Helen said: “In Geronimo’s case he had had four injections of Tuberculin. The government has never measured the effect of cattle Tuberculin on healthy camelids' immune systems. It's the same dose as you would give a cow, which is ten times the body weight of an alpaca. Camelids are not cows, they have a completely unique immune system.”
Helen has been fighting for a re-test, and although she lost her case in the High Court, judges ruled that Geronimo would not be put to sleep while her legal challenge was underway.
Her request for an appeal hearing was turned down in November by the Court of Appeal and she has no further rights to appeal in the UK – but is now considering whether to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Helen said: "I'm so disappointed and quite shocked the court hasn't looked at the evidence but has ruled on the law as it stands – so it seems that you can't hold a government to account – and this is a unique case, where there is a wealth of evidence to show Geronimo did not get bTB in New Zealand, as Defra allege.”
Helen wrote to the most recent Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, to request a meeting, but had not received a reply before December's general election. Ms Villiers is the third minister Helen has written to since she started her legal battle, during which time Geronimo has remained healthy.
Helen says Geronimo’s exact movements in New Zealand have been documented and no other animals he came into contact with have tested positive. The farm where he lived has been free from any suspicion of TB for 20 years. Since coming to Britain, he has been quarantined – and none of the other animals he is held with have contracted the disease.
What keeps Helen fighting is her conviction that there is no scientific evidence behind the government’s decision.
She said: "It's wrong – the fact is, they have no valid test data, Geronimo is running around five years after Defra allege he ‘got it at a show’ in New Zealand and now, more than two years later, must be slaughtered because they say the test results were correct back in 2017.
“How do you make a government accountable for their actions? I have expert witnesses, I have expert camelid vets, I have evidence from around the world that says this isn’t acceptable, but Defra won’t listen to anybody.
"It's not about trying to save a sick animal, if I thought for one minute that Geronimo was diseased then he would have been taken at the outset in 2017."
The Voice has asked Defra to comment on Geronimo's case but has not received a response.