Boris Johnson and his government face a damaging PR disaster if Geronimo the alpaca is put down only to later test negative for bovine tuberculosis.
Protests have been mounting over the order for Geronimo to be killed after a series of BTB tests on the alpaca came back positive, with even the PM’s dad calling for a rethink.
Experts say that the tests can be flawed, and that post-mortem tests can show different results.
At a rally in Westminster yesterday, Iain McGill, a BTB expert, and a practising vet told The Independent that it would be standard procedure for government vets to test Geronimo again after he’s been put down.
And owner Helen MacDonald, who brought eight-year-old Geronimo to the UK in 2017, would also be able to ask a vet to test her alpaca after he had been killed – although it is illegal for Helen to initiate her own test on her pet while he is alive.
Iain said that "all hell will break loose" if it turns out that Geronimo was needlessly put down. As well as being a "PR disaster" for ministers, the government would face a class-action lawsuit from farmers who have had their own alpacas destroyed in similar circumstances.
Protests against the slaughter of Geronimo have been growing amid claims that the tests can return false positives, but environment secretary George Eustice – who comes from a family of farmers – has refused to overrule the decision to put down the alpaca.
Stanley Johnson, the dad of PM Boris, has hit out at the “murderous errand” and has written to Mr Eustice. And there have been calls on conservationist Carrie Johnson to put pressure on her husband to stop the slaughter from going ahead.
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James Hamilton, of Cotswold Alpacas, had 11-year-old Karlie put down in 2018 after a government test found she had BTB. But a post-mortem test found that the 11-year-old was actually clear of the disease.
He told The Independent that Karlie was a "perfectly fit animal" who was condemned to death by a system that "doesn’t make sense", and he urged the government to "admit there are false positives".
Geronimo had four tests in New Zealand before Helen brought him to the UK, and all were negative. But two blood tests and a skin test over here have come back positive.
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After Helen lost a High Court appeal last week, a warrant was signed for Geronimo’s death, which is scheduled to take place by September 4.
A government spokesperson said: "We know how distressing losing animals to TB is for anyone. That is why the environment secretary has looked at this extremely carefully and interrogated all the evidence.
"The fact remains that Geronimo has sadly tested positive twice using a highly specific and reliable and validated test. This is something the environment secretary has looked at very carefully."
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