More than 400 alpacas slaughtered in Sussex TB outbreak

HUNDREDS of alpacas have been slaughtered on a single site in southern England because of a bovine TB (bTB) outbreak in the herd.

Anecdotal reports suggest in excess of 400 alpacas kept on a premises near Haywards Heath, in East Sussex, have been culled so far, the majority between April 11 and 13.

There are potentially more to follow in what is already an unprecedented outbreak in a single alpaca herd, as the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) continues to investigate the outbreak.

It is understood that the herd is owned by US-based company Alpacas of America, which, according to its website, supplies animals internationally to the UK, Australia, Canada and Switzerland. Animals from the Sussex herd are understood to have been sold within the UK and to mainland Europe.

Alpacas of America’s owner Bill Barnett has been unavailable for comment so far.

An AHVLA spokesman confirmed that a ‘number of alpacas have been culled at a premises in East Sussex after testing positive for tuberculosis (TB)’. Further tests are continuing on the remaining animals.

He said the agency had take action to prevent the spread of the disease to other holdings.

“We continue to work hard to control and eradicate the infection, establish its likely source and trace any potentially infected alpacas that were moved or sold to other holdings before TB was diagnosed in this herd,” he said.

The sheer scale of the outbreak sheds new light on the scale of the bTB problem in UK alpacas.

Official Defra figures show 53 alpaca and llama herds had been confirmed with bTB in Britain up to September 2011, although there is a suspicion that not every case has been reported over the years.

There is, however, no official record of the number of animals slaughtered as result of the disease as Defra’s official figures for ‘non-bovines’ only record the positive sample or samples that has confirmed the outbreak, not other animals subsequently slaughtered.

Defra has been criticised from within the alpaca community, including by Dianne Summers, the Cornish alpaca owner who was, herself, confirmed with bTB this month, for under-estimating the scale of the problem and for failing to impose tough enough TB rules on camelid owners.

There are compulsory requirements for TB testing, slaughter of infected animals and movement restrictions are often voluntary. Ms Summers, who has campaigned on the issue for a number of years, has called for camelids to be treated in the same way as other farmed livestock when it comes to disease restrictions.

“Things have got to change. Somebody has got to sort out the problem in alpacas. The fact that we can refuse tests and the disease is only  found in herds if we have a post mortem means innocent people are being sold these animals when they are riddled with TB,” she said.

Defra has sought to justify the lack of restrictions on camelids by arguing that these animals aren’t thought to be major carriers in spreading the disease.

A Defra spokesman said the Department was currently reviewing the control measures for non-bovines.

“We provide the same advice to owners of non-bovines as we do to the owners of cattle,” he said.

“We work with the owners of non-bovines, such as alpacas, to test animals where TB is suspected, and come to an agreement with them to slaughter the animals that prove positive, pay compensation and put measures in place that are felt necessary.”

While there is no official compensation figure, it is understood that in most cases owners receive £750 for each animal slaughtered because of bTB.

Readers' comments (5)

  • why aren't goats dairy goats TB tested

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  • Richard Stevens @ 2.39

    The TB regulations and testing apply only to 'bovine animals and farmed deer' .
    Thus it is only when a suspicious illness/ death / abattoir report crosses Defras' radar do they get involved. And then, although bTB is notifiable in all mammalian species (as of 2006) Animal Health have no right of entry, the skin test, designed for cattle, is rubbish (on alpacas) and compensation gratuitous and depending on owner 'co operation'.
    More and more mammals are becoming victims of bTB, but it's hard to keep track of this because of Defra's unique way of recording deaths.
    Remember these 4-500 from a single herd when you read Defra's stats, which are in single figures.
    It really is a dogs breakfast of denial.

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  • Thank you Pat
    So the alpacas did not need to be tested as not bovine I was wondering why Dairy Goats arn't tested as like the cow the milk is being taken for use The alpaca was giving nothing only wool

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  • Richard Stevens
    Alpacas are entering food chain as meat in increasing numbers. They are also common at open farms etc so there is possible risk to humans from alpacas

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  • Richard Stevens
    Goats are only tested by defra if there is TB breakdown in cattle on same farm or very close by, otherwise testing is only done at owners wish and expense

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