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A fiasco. Photo: Gwydion M. Williams via
A fiasco. Photo: Gwydion M. Williams via
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Badger culls were ineffective and inhumane

Oliver Tickell

28th February 2014

Sources close to Defra have revealed that the UK's badger culls were an outright failure. They killed well under the target number of animals, and were unable to meet Defra's own 'humaneness test'

The Panel's findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria.

Defra has yet to publish the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) report on the badger culls in pilot areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire, however sources close to Defra have revealed key findings from the report.

First, fewer than half of the badger population was killed in both areas over the six-week period - against the target to kill 70% of badgers in each area.

This is worse than preliminary assessments, which indicated that 58% of badgers had been killed in the Somerset area, and 30% in the Gloucestershire area. The IEP used a more precise methodology, accounting for the discrepancy in the figures.

Research by Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London carried out in the 1990s showed that if the target to kill 70% of badgers in six weeks was not achieved, the spread of bovine TB (BTB) - which the badger culls are intended to reduce - could actually be increased as infected badgers moved into new areas.

Up to 18% of badgers took over 5 minutes to die

The trial culls also failed to meet the principal humaneness criterion set by Defra, which is for no more than 5% of badgers to take more than five minutes to die. Depending on the assumptions made, the IEP found that between 6.4% and 18% of shot badgers exceeded the 5-minute time limit. It also found a "wide variation in the effectiveness and humaneness" of the contractors engaged to kill the badgers.

Professor Woodroffe told the BBC's Phallab Ghosh that the panel's findings "show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria. I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State (Owen Patterson) to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle."

The cull, she added, "has cost a fortune and probably contributed nothing in terms of disease control, which is really unfortunate."

Robin Hargreaves, President of the British Veterinary Association, told the BBC: "We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting.

"We are unable to comment in detail on the findings of the IEP until we have seen the report, but if these figures are true then they would certainly raise concerns about both the humaneness and efficacy of controlled shooting."

So for Defra and NFU, it's full steam ahead ...

However a Defra spokesman indicated that regardless of the failure of the cull to meet the two key criteria - of humaneness and effectiveness - there were no plans to call the programme to a halt:

"We knew there'd be lessons to be learned from the first year of the pilot culls which is why we're looking forward to receiving the panel's recommendations for improving the way they are carried out."

Andy Robertson, director general of the National Farmers' Union, insisted that the cull must continue. "Badgers play a key role in spreading bovine TB and so it's essential that any TB eradication policy must include a targeted cull of badgers in those areas where TB is rife."



BBC report: Badger culls were 'ineffective and failed humaneness test'


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