An alpaca farmer locked in a legal battle with Defra over a ‘failed’ bovine TB (bTB) test said her experience raised questions about the testing regime in camelids and cattle, which she claims is flawed.
Helen Macdonald’s nightmare started when she imported a £15,000 five-year-old alpaca as part of a group of 29 from a high health herd in New Zealand.
The herd had been bTB-free for 26 years and the alpaca, Geronimo, had passed a pre-export TB skin test.
On Geronimo arriving in the UK, Ms Macdonald, a veterinary nurse, undertook a voluntary Enferplex test but was shocked when the animal threw a positive result.
“I did not have to do the test but my other animals had all been tested and gone negative.
“I have a highly bio secure herd and I wanted to do the right thing. Defra granted permission for me to test and now I am being punished,” said Ms Macdonald, who had immediately put the animal into isolation on arrival at her farm in Gloucestershire.
She was contacted by officials from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) who said the animal would have to be destroyed, but Ms Macdonald refused, arguing the test result was highly suspicious’.
Alpacas, considered an overspill species for bTB can contract and spread the disease but die relatively quickly, whereas it can go unnoticed in cattle.
Ms Macdonald added: “We looked into it and found this animal had tuberculin injected into him every year of his life and twice in the last 12 months, so it is not too surprising he threw a positive result.
“This is very new science for camelids and Defra promised to work with the industry to investigate surprising results.
“He was also given the same dose as a cow which equates to 10x the dose a cow would receive.
“Defra say the test is highly specific and it is in the absence of tuberculin. There is no data at all for what happens when alpacas have multiple injections of tuberculin first.”
The British Alpaca Society (BAS) wrote to Farming Minister George Eustice to voice its concerns about the testing regime.
BAS chairman Ron Mackintosh wrote: “Our belief is that this animal is a victim of a false positive Enferplex result due to multiple tuberculin injections from the skin test he received in September 2016 and in July and November 2017.”
But after 13 weeks Mr Eustice replied saying the decision to cull the animal still stood.
A Defra spokesman said: “We are very sympathetic to Geronimo and his owner’s situation – just as we are with everyone with animals affected by this terrible disease.
“However, bovine TB causes devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities and that is why we must have robust procedures in place to reduce risk of the disease spreading.”
BAS said it would pay for further testing of the animal but Defra refused.
Ms Macdonald added: “This was a voluntary test which is unproven for use in the way it has been. That and supposition is the only evidence they have to force the slaughter of this alpaca who if he was diseased would have been dead by Christmas.”