The Fight Against Bovine Tuberculosis – Pedigree Alpaca Faces Slaughter

Bovine tuberculosis (Btb) is a grave threat to livestock farmers and it is the Government’s duty to do all it can to stamp out the disease. In a High Court case on point, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was found to have acted rationally in ordering the slaughter of a pedigree alpaca.

The animal had been imported from New Zealand, where there is a low incidence of Btb. Quarantine procedures had been followed to the letter and two skin tests for Btb prior to his export had returned negative results. His owner had invested heavily in biosecurity on her alpaca farm, including the installation of a badger-proof fence, badgers being a known carrier of Btb.

Since his arrival in Britain, however, blood tests had twice given positive results for Btb. After the Secretary of State used his powers under the Animal Health Act 1981 to direct the animal’s slaughter, his owner launched a judicial review challenge and was granted a stay of execution by a judge. He was kept in isolation pending the outcome of the proceedings.

The owner argued that there was a substantial risk that the blood tests had returned false positive results. The methodology of the tests was flawed and the evidence – not least the complete absence of clinical signs of the disease in the animal – demonstrated to a high degree of probability that he was not infected.

In rejecting her claim, however, the Court noted that Btb is a threat to the health not only of livestock, but also of humans. The Act confers on the Secretary of State a broad power to direct slaughter of animals likely to be carrying Btb as he thinks fit. In lengthy correspondence, he had responded in detail to every point raised by the owner and could not be said to have acted with a closed mind.

Although it was common ground that no test for Btb is infallible, the Court found that the two positive results indicated to a high degree of certainty that the animal was infected. The Secretary of State was entitled to concluded that a third test, even if the result were negative, would be a futile exercise, in that it would not dispel the strong suspicion that the animal is carrying Btb. The Court acknowledged that the animal’s slaughter would be highly distressing to his owner, but could detect no error of law or perversity in the Secretary of State’s decision.