Huge Tory PR disaster ruins an image Johnson’s government has long been cultivating

Boris Johnson holding the dog Dilyn
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Boris Johnson’s government has tried hard to cultivate an image of being an animal welfare champion. The writing has long been on the wall that this not, in fact, the case. Johnson’s disdain towards “newt-counting”, i.e. protections for wildlife, and his government’s wholesale slaughter of badgers, to name but two examples, have shown what a load of tosh this champion facade is.

Now a huge Tory PR disaster has truly left the idea that Johnson’s government can be trusted to look out for the welfare of non-human animals dead in the water.

National disgrace

As The Canary previously reported, thousands of people recently called on the government to cancel its planning killing of an alpaca called Geronimo. The alpaca farmer and veterinary nurse Helen McDonald brought Geronimo to the UK from New Zealand in 2017 and upon arrival he had tests that suggested he had TB. Prior tests in New Zealand showed he didn’t have the disease, however, and the UK tests he had apparently aren’t “validated” for alpacas.

In short, many people, including the conservationist Chris Packham and ex-Badger Trust CEO Dominic Dyer, suspected that the UK’s flawed TB testing regime had wrongly put a target on Geronimo’s back and called on the government for a rethink.

The government didn’t heed their call though. Instead, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) sent a team of people in heavily protected gear, heavily protected themselves by police, to McDonald’s farm on 31 August. They then proceeded to chase Geronimo around a field, tie a rope around his head and drag him to a van to take him away for slaughter.

PR disaster

As Dyer pointed out, the sorry exercise was also a PR disaster for the government:

Meanwhile, Packham argued that the appalling events showed how “out of control, arrogant and unaccountable” Defra is:

That arrogance was further illustrated, he pointed out, by the department’s decision not to allow an independent observer at Geronimo’s post mortem examination:

Defra’s refusal to allow an independent observer at the post mortem is particularly troubling as its results will determine whether Geronimo actually had TB or not:

Killing their way out of trouble

McDonald’s veterinary scientific adviser Dr Iain McGill joined a number of other leading vets recently in sharing their “grave reservations” about Geronimo’s UK test results. McGill told The Canary that Defra is “trying to kill their way out of trouble”. But he warned that the tactic is “not going to work this time”. McGill said that executing Geronimo:

in the full glare of the world’s media will have serious repercussions for Defra officials involved in signing off on that decision.

There were extreme animal welfare issues, with distressed vocalisations and shrieking by Geronimo, a sustained pursuit around the paddock by multiple police officers and Defra staff, followed by him being dragged on a rope towards his final tethering alone and scared in a horse box.

He added that such behaviour “is simply not acceptable for the veterinary profession in the 21th Century and I feel very sorry for the veterinary surgeons who were forced to commit those actions by senior figures at Defra”.

McGill has been working on the Operation Ark mission to fly Nowzad sanctuary staff and its rescue animals from Afghanistan to the UK. He said:

Defra and APHA [Animal and Plant Health Agency] have been superb in helping us with that, and yet another part of Defra went behind my back and slaughtered Geronimo whilst I am focused on this humanitarian mission

A whole heap of trouble

The veterinarian told The Canary that there are already disciplinary proceedings on their way against Defra officials. He also said he wouldn’t be surprised if criminal proceedings followed either.

What’s for certain is that Defra’s decision to, in McGill’s words, place Geronimo “on trial on the flimsiest of evidence” and kill him “as a mere suspect”, isn’t going to eliminate scrutiny of the UK’s flawed TB policy. On the contrary, it’s merely succeeded in drawing more attention to it.

The appalling way Defra chose to end Geronimo’s life has also put the government’s ‘animal welfare champion’ ruse well and truly to bed.

Featured image via Reuters / YouTube

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