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Calls for better testing, more regulation on llama TB

Friday 26 August 2011

Alpacas and llamas, which currently take the same test as cattle, with unreliable results, could benefit from better tuberculosis protection as a new test is developed. Farmers are putting their own money into funding research into a better TB test for the animals.

While bTB is wreaking havoc among cattle in parts of the UK, particularly affecting dairy herds, and costing the UK taxpayer millions of pounds a year, llamas and alpacas, more recent arrivals to UK agriculture, are also susceptible to the disease. However, the extent to which the camelid population in the UK has been affected is unclear, as the current TB test gives unreliable results for the family.

Alpacas have become increasingly popular for their fleeces, which has led to a dramatic rise in numbers over the past few years, though there is still no national TB testing programme for the species. Vets and farmers are now contributing to a more reliable test to help protect the animals.

Scientists at the Veterinary Laboratories Agencies will investigate whether PCR testing can accurately identify TB in camelids. Gina Bromege, a vet who specialises in alpacas, told the BBC of the pressing need for a new, accurate testing system. She said, “We have no adequate test at all at the moment and because the disease is completely hidden animals can appear absolutely healthy while about to die from it, and there is no way of telling that.”

She continued, “a potential buyer, or exhibitor or breeding owner will not know if an animal is infectious. We are in a position where we don’t know how much disease we’ve got, or how readily it’s being spread.”

Although she said there was no way of knowing the extent to which TB was affecting camelids in the UK, she said that, if identified, movement restrictions could be placed on infected animals. However, a lack of concrete regulation means camelid owners are not required to record their animals’ movements in any way or identify infected animals.

A Defra spokesperson said the department is currently reviewing the controls for non-bovine species, in particular llamas and alpacas.

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