07:26, July 09 43 0 theguardian.com

2019-07-09 07:26:05
UK farmer loses high court fight to stop alpaca being killed

An alpaca farmer has lost a high court battle to stop one of her prized animals from being killed.

Helen Macdonald took legal action against the government in a last-ditch attempt to save her stud alpaca, Geronimo, who was earmarked for slaughter after twice testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

Macdonald, who runs Alpaca Power based in Wickwar, south Gloucestershire, claims the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is “relying doggedly on flawed science”.

She argued that Geronimo is not infected with the disease and says the tests carried out on him produced “false positive results” because he had been “primed” by being injected with bovine tuberculin.

Macdonald, an experienced alpaca breeder and veterinary nurse, challenged the environment secretary Michael Gove’s refusal, in July last year, to allow Geronimo to be re-tested for bTB.

Her lawyers argued there is “overwhelming evidence” which demonstrates that the alpaca is not infected, and said the original test results are “not reliable”.

But, in his ruling on Tuesday, Mr Justice Murray dismissed Macdonald’s case, finding that there was no “compelling evidence” that the decision not to re-test Geronimo was unlawful.

The judge acknowledged that the government accepted that “it is possible that Ms Macdonald is correct that the ... test results are false positives”.

But he stated: “Nonetheless, the two positive results provide strong evidence, to a high degree of certainty, that he is so infected.”

He added that he understood the decision to slaughter Geronimo was “highly distressing for Ms Macdonald and her supporters”, but concluded that the decision was not unlawful.

At the hearing in March, Macdonald’s barrister, Cathryn McGahey QC, argued that “the evidence demonstrates to a high degree of probability that Geronimo is not infected with bTB”.

She added: “There is no proper basis on which the defendant can reasonably suspect that Geronimo is infected with bTB.”

Government lawyers, however, argued that Geronimo is “highly suspected” of being infected with bTB, which can take years to manifest in physical symptoms, and should be slaughtered.

Ned Westaway, representing Gove, said: “One can, of course, express sympathy for the claimant, who clearly does not wish to lose a potentially valuable animal.

“However, the legal position is clear. The defendant ... is charged with controlling bTB and is the expert decision-maker for these purposes.

“The defendant in this case has given careful consideration to all relevant factors relied upon by the claimant but maintains his suspicion that Geronimo is affected with bTB.”

Geronimo was brought to the UK from New Zealand in August 2017 and has been kept in quarantine since his arrival.

He tested negative for bTB twice while still in New Zealand, but later tested positive in August and December 2017.

Defra is responsible for controlling bTB, which can have devastating consequences for cattle farmers.

A number of controversial badger-culling programmes have been carried out in recent years to stop the spread of the disease.

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