Fears raised of growing TB problem in alpacas

THE inability of Government to force alpaca owners to test for bovine TB (bTB) and slaughter infected animals is allowing the disease to spread at an alarming rate within the species, it is feared.

A number of alpaca herds have been diagnosed with the disease in the South West in recent months, but efforts to clamp down on its spread are being hampered by the lack of enforcement powers at Defra's disposal.

Infected herds

Dianne Summers from Redruth, Cornwall, has lost four male animals from her herd of 19 alpacas to TB since last September. She has chosen to allow Defra to test her herd and slaughter infected animals and is now under movement restrictions.

She is in contact with nine other infected herds in the South West and said in five of the cases, the direct contact to the farms has refused to test.

“I find it absolutely disgusting there is no legal requirement to test. It is very upsetting that people who refuse to test could potentially be spreading the disease around the country,” she said.

Ms Summers arranged a meeting of 30 alpaca owners in Truro on Tuesday, addressed by local Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) official James Barnett, to raise awareness of the problem and encourage people to test voluntarily. “The sad thing is most people who own alpacas are unaware of what is going on,” she said.

There are more than 24,000 registered alpacas in around 750 herds in the UK. At the end of May there were 14 alpaca herds under TB-related restrictions in England.

Mike Birch, chairman of the British Alpaca Society (BAS), admitted the association had no way of knowing the true extent of the problem. While the society had no power to force its members to act, it was recommending if they suspected a problem they should ‘get it tested and do the right thing if any animals are infected'.

Responsibility

“We do not want to ignore the problem. We are very aware we have a responsibility to the wider agricultural community and we do not want any spread into cattle,” he said.

A Defra spokesman said the Department had legal powers to impose movement restrictions when disease was suspected in alpacas and farmed species other than deer and cattle.

But it ‘relies on the co-operation of livestock owners' to agree to testing and slaughter of positive animals.

“The Government will become involved if there is a threat to other alpacas or farmed livestock species. Any action taken will reflect the circumstances of the case in question,” he said.

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