Sir Keir Starmer backs decision to kill Geronimo


here is “no alternative” to the culling of the alpaca Geronimo, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said. Geronimo has twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis and the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has ordered his destruction. His owner Helen Macdonald, who imported him from New Zealand, believes the tests are returning false positives, but has been refused permission to have him tested a third time.

Sir Keir Starmer said he agreed with the decision to cull Geronimo (Peter Morrison/PA) / PA Wire

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

But she 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. “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.”

Sir Keir Starmer backs decision to kill GeronimoThe alpaca is living in isolation at his owner’s farm in Wickwar, South Gloucestershire (Ben Birchall/PA) / PA Wire

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.

The British Alpaca Society said the current stand-off between Defra and Ms Macdonald has “considerably undermined confidence” in the voluntary bovine TB testing regime in the UK. Earlier this week, the Government insisted that all the evidence on the animal’s condition had been “looked at very carefully”. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman 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.”

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. At her farm in Wickwar, friends, family and supporters have joined her to protest against Geronimo’s impending fate.

As well as alpacas, badgers have been a victim of the fight against bovine TB, with mass culling employed to stop the spread since 2013, sparking a huge public backlash.