9 August 2021

To protect animals and beat the mawkish mob, Geronimo must be put down


Like almost everyone else I know, and millions of people across the country, I thoroughly enjoyed Clarkson’s Farm. Even people not disposed to like his sometimes-boorish petrolhead persona seem to have conceded that Jeremy Clarkson did himself credit with his affectionate but unstinting look at the reality of rural life in Britain today.

It was this honesty that set the show apart from offerings such as Countryfile, which often seem to be made with the sensibilities of us town mice uppermost in their thoughts. 

This was most obvious (spoiler alert) when it came to the fate of the three ewes who weren’t able to lamb. It is hard to imagine a scripted show letting us see Clarkson bond with the animals, ascribe personalities to them, get very upset at the prospect of sending them to the abattoir…and then eat them, nonetheless.

But if there was any hope that the show might have led to a shift in how the great British public view rural issues, the absurd saga of Geronimo the alpaca has surely put paid to them.

If you have been fortunate enough to miss this story, the bare facts are these. An alpaca was imported to the United Kingdom from New Zealand and subsequently tested positive – twice! – for bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a disease which kills around 500 cattle every week. It is thus scheduled to be euthanised, in line with this country’s perfectly sensible disease control procedures.

This story plays out all the time, on farms up and down the country. If the Government fails to keep bTB under control, far more animals will die. This will both be sad for the animals and the owners, not to mention creating even more financial difficulty for Britain’s hard-pressed farmers.

Liz Truss will also find it harder to open up new pork markets, or indeed markets for any other British meats, if foreign buyers get the impression that the UK takes a relaxed attitude towards diseased livestock. If you doubt it, look at the long shadow that both mad cow disease and the foot-and-mouth outbreak cast over UK exports.

Unfortunately, however, Geronimo is not some random cow. He is a cute alpaca with, as the Times of all papers feels the need to report, “a cheeky personality”, as well as a media-savvy owner. And it’s the silly season, which means the press has thrown itself into whipping up a ‘save Geronimo’ circus featuring all the usual suspects.

The Government seems to be in a tricky position. On the one hand, the animal’s owner has made a personal appeal to Carrie Johnson and what we know of how her husband’s Downing Street operates doesn’t reassure us that this won’t work. Even absent that pressure, Boris is just the politician to play to the sentimental gallery – Jim Hacker hosing money to rescue a dog from a Ministry of Defence artillery range in Yes, Prime Minister is surely his template.

However, if he does intervene to spare Geronimo, he will surely undermine those sensible disease control policies. It would also be a slap in the face to every farmer who has put down their own livestock, at personal distress and cost – and perhaps even give them grounds to sue.

It has fallen to George Eustice to spell out the facts. His piece is worth reading in full, but contains one extraordinary line:

“Ministers should always challenge and probe on the rationale for certain policy approaches and on individual cases, so I first looked in detail at the case of Geronimo over three years ago and on several occasions since.” 

Think about that for a second. Geronimo has tested positive twice. He has enjoyed the benefits of a years-long appeal process. His case has even received the personal attention of the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs! Yet still the owner, playing to the FBPE gallery, has the nerve to cast her bid for special treatment as a bold stand against a lawless government – and gets a sympathetic write-up in the London press.

When the authorities do euthanise Geronimo, it will doubtless be very sad for the owner. But unless by some miracle he doesn’t actually have bTB, it has to happen. Not only to protect other livestock and the reputation of the British agricultural sector, but to affirm the equal enforcement of the law and inflict a just and necessary defeat on the mawkish coalition attempting once again, as so often before, to yoke rural life to urban sentiment.

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Henry Hill is News Editor of ConservativeHome.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.