Minister 'pleased with cull progress'
until the end and get the assessment from the independent experts. They will tell us whether that impression is correct or not."
Asked whether a shortage of professional marksmen was among the problems, as cited by sources, he said: "We are aware they have been working hard. That has a toll in itself."
Asked whether he was confident the target would be met, he said: "I'll wait and see but I have no reason to suppose not."
In West Somerset, the target is to kill between 2,081 and 2,162 badgers, an average of about 50 badgers a day, which represents some 70% of the local population.
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If the shooters do not kill enough animals they risk making the spread of the disease worse, and it would raise serious questions over whether the two pilots could be expanded to other areas.
During the session, Mr Heath made a fierce defence of the Government-sanctioned culls as one delegate questioned the science behind the programme – which is part of a basket of measures to tackle bovine TB.
The minister said it was "nonsense" to suggest culling was "unproven and won't work". "The science on whether it reduces TB is proven," he said. "There was an awful lot wrong with the Krebs trials (a ten-year trial cull) but he says it in black-and-white that it does reduce the incidents of TB."
He added culling was in line with Lib Dem policy. "We're not talking about exterminating a species as some would have you believe," Mr Heath said. "It is about reducing the numbers, taking out the infected animals, and ending up with healthy badgers and healthy cattle side-by-side.
"That is completely in line with this party's policy, which has always supported targeted culling."