Labour leader Keir Starmer backs decision to kill alpaca Geronimo

Labour leader backs Defra decision as he says exception can’t be made for alpaca

<p>The Labour leader has described Geronimo‘s case as ‘tragic'</p>

The Labour leader has described Geronimo‘s case as ‘tragic'

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has backed the Government’s decision to cull Geronimo the alpaca.

The fate of Geronimo, who has tested positive twice for bovine tuberculosis, has become a national talking point as celebrities including Joanna Lumley and Chris Packham have backed a campaign to save the animal.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has ordered the alpaca’s destruction, but its owner, Helen Macdonald, believes the tests are returning false positives, but has been refused permission to carry out a third test.

Last week, Ms Macdonald lost her final appeal to save her pet at the High Court in London and now a warrant has been signed for his death.

However, the alpaca’s plight has received an outpouring of support from the public, with more than 110,000 people signing a petition calling on Boris Johnson to halt the killing.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir described Geronimo‘s case as “tragic” but agreed with the Government’s stance that the animal should be euthanised.

Helen Macdonald holds tightly onto Geronimo the alpaca

“It’s a really sad situation and you can see why emotions are running very high, but farmers around here and across Gloucestershire will be familiar with having to lose their animals because of TB,” he told ITV News during a visit to Stroud, Gloucestershire.

“It’s always tragic when it happens. I don’t think we can make an exception in this case.

“Of course it’s sad - it’s sad for farmers as well when they lose their animals but we have to keep TB under control.”

When asked if the Government’s stance was right, he added: “I think there’s no alternative, sadly.

“I do actually understand why emotions are so high as they would be with farmers as well who, on a not-irregular basis, have to lose animals that are very valuable to them.”

Lawyers acting for Ms Macdonald have written to environment secretary George Eustice to suggest Geronimo‘s life could be saved and instead he could be studied for research.

On Monday around 30 people - including fellow alpaca farmers who had lost animals in similar circumstances - gathered outside Defra’s headquarters in Smith Square, Westminster, to march to Downing Street.

Speaking from her farm in South Gloucestershire, Ms Macdonald criticised the government for refusing to change its mind.

“Unfortunately they are still misquoting data,” she said.

“What they did to Geronimo was not a validated test - they knew what they were doing.

“We are just asking to have him tested with something appropriate. I get they have policy to follow but there are other ways, and they don’t have to kill him. He is safe in isolation here.

“They’ve always been happy with that and he’s not a public health risk. They won’t test his friends, so they are obviously not worried that he is going to give them TB.

“No-one has died here from TB in four years, so I just don’t understand why it has to be this drastic.”

Ms Macdonald said that when Defra officials do attend her farm to euthanise Geronimo she will not break the law.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said earlier this week: “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.”

Additional reporting by PA

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