The British Alpaca Society (BAS) has called for urgent talks with the government after recent events “considerably undermined confidence” in voluntary bovine TB testing.
A campaign to save Geronimo, an alpaca who arrived in the UK from New Zealand in 2017, from being euthanised has featured on the front page of the Sun and across national media.
As part of the current voluntary testing system Geronimo tested positive twice for bovine TB, but his owner, Helen Macdonald, believes these were false positives and unsuccessfully appealed to the High Court.
Macdonald has been supported by 100,000 signatures to an online petition and animal rights campaigners staged a march to Downing Street earlier this week.
BAS, a charity representing 1,500 alpaca owners, has criticised the government over its handling of the case.
In a statement, Duncan Pullar, chief executive of BAS, said: “BAS recognises the need for an effective bTB testing scheme in alpacas that has the confidence and support of its members for the benefit of their alpacas and their bovine neighbours.
“The recent events relating to Geronimo have done nothing to advance that position and have considerably undermined confidence in the current regime.”
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has declined to allow further testing for Geronimo and says that the test he received is 99% accurate. It has also raised concerns about the way the case has been reported on its blog.
Pullar added: “The unique circumstances that have developed relating to Geronimo clearly show the testing system is not working as well as it should, and it is a matter of concern that Defra do not appear to want to learn from what is going on.”
BAS also said it was concerned about an article written by George Eustice, secretary for environment, food and rural affairs.
“His Daily Mail article contains factual errors. George Eustice says, ‘…the Enferplex test detects the protein of bTB itself, not an immune response’.
“The manufacture’s website clearly states ‘the Enferplex TB test is a serological assay which identifies the presence of antibody to Mycobacterium bovis’,” Pullar said.
He also says Eustice’s article “downplays” another test used in the UK.
We want to learn from Geronimo
BAS says it raised concerns with DEFRA about “the potential adverse effects of multiple priming before an Enferplex test in alpacas in 2016 and again specifically in Geronimo’s case in March 2018”.
It has now called for further testing to understand what its going on.
Pullar said: “Alpaca breeders and owners would welcome the opportunity to learn from Geronimo and cannot understand why the government would not wish to do so as well.”