Defra quizzed on 'humane' nature of badger cull
The decision about the humaneness of the controversial pilot badger culls in the South West will be decided by Ministers, not scientists.
As the Government-backed pilot culls continue in bovine TB hotspot areas, protesters against the cull say the system on assessing humaneness lacks credence.
But the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the culls would be assessed by "a range of experts on humaneness" once they were completed and the data assessed.
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An announcement is expected from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in December on whether a series of up to 40 other culls will take place at a rate of 10 per year. These would include culls in Dorset, on the Devon and Cornwall border and possibly on The Lizard peninsular.
The highly controversial six-week trial culls, in West Somerset and around Tewkesbury, are part of the Government's strategy to eliminate bovine TB. Badgers in the cull areas are being shot by licensed marksmen, with the aim of culling 70% of the badger population. They are being used to determine whether the system works – and whether it is humane.
But the Government Chief Vet, Nigel Gibbens has revealed there exists no yardstick for deciding what is "humane". He said there were: "No definitive criteria for determining humaneness."
In a letter to Humane Society International he wrote: "As judgements on humaneness are to some extent subjective, it is appropriate that the final decision on humaneness is taken by Ministers, who are publicly accountable for their decisions and actions."
He went on to state the decision to extend the culls would be based on relevant data collected during the monitoring of the pilot culls: "together with the panel's expert assessment of this information".
Mr Gibbens said the controlled shooting system employed in the pilot culls was widely used and considered humane in culling foxes, deer and rabbits.
But Mark Jones, the director of Humane Society International, described the lack of a definitive criteria for measuring humaneness as "extremely worrying". It suggested Ministers would decide on the future of the culls on a "highly subjective and completely secret assessment, that appears to lack any scientific credibility or independent scrutiny," he said.
Mr Jones, who is a vet, added: "Badger suffering is supposed to be one of the central justifications for the pilot culls, but it's quite clear that they are making it up as they go along."
The National Farmers' Union (NFU), which is helping run the pilot culls, would not comment. A spokesman for the NFU in the South West said the humaneness issue was a matter between Defra and Humane Society International.
A total of 38,010 cattle were destroyed last year as a result of TB. The Independent Science Group reported in 2007 that up to one in three badgers in hot-spot areas had TB.