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In the dark: a badger in Pembrokeshire snaffles up a tasty snack. Photo: Chris Frewin via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
In the dark: a badger in Pembrokeshire snaffles up a tasty snack. Photo: Chris Frewin via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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  • Defra's letter refusing to publish its badger report of 26 October 2015, page 1.
    Defra's letter refusing to publish its badger report of 26 October 2015, page 1.
  • Defra's letter refusing to publish its badger report of 26 October 2015, page 2.
    Defra's letter refusing to publish its badger report of 26 October 2015, page 2.

In the dark: badger cull cost-benefit report is state secret

The Ecologist

2nd November 2015

The Government has refused to publish its report on the cost effectiveness of England's badger cull because it is 'still in draft form'. Campaigners say the real reason is that it reveals the cull to be cruel, ineffective and incredibly expensive.

The Government's reluctance to release this information, proves that the badger cull is a hugely expensive, scientifically flawed and inhumane policy which is unlikely to make any significant contribution to lowering the level of bovine TB in cattle.

Environment Secretary Liz Truss has refused to release a key report detailing the cost effectiveness of the England badger cull.

Her department, Defra, has just denied a Freedom of Information Request (FoI) from the Badger Trust to its promised financial reappraisal of its badger cull policy because the document is "still in draft form".

In 2011 the Government stated in a policy paper (see 4.17 / 4.18) that it would revise its cost benefit analysis with data from the pilot badger culls undertaken in Somerset and Gloucestershire, before making any decision on rolling out the policy to new areas of the country.

In its FOI response letter (see images, right) Defra revealed that the financial assessment had been performed and updated with the cost of 2013 and 2014 culls, and that this information was used in deciding to extend the cull to Dorset earlier this year.

However Defra refused to publish the report because it was "in the course of completion" and "the assessment of value for money is still in draft form."

It added that "releasing an interim assessment before it has been finalised could mislead the public, detract from the discussion on effective disease control, and impinge on the safe space that officials require to develop the policy."

So in summary: Defra claims its evidence of cost-effectiveness is good enough to justify extending the cull to a new county, Dorset, at a cost of many millions of pounds - but not good enough for the public to see the evidence and make their own judgment.

A disastrous failure of public policy

"The badger culls have proven a disastrous failure on scientific and humaneness grounds but a key factor which is likely to bring the policy to an end is the huge cost burden on the tax payer", said Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust.

"The government has refused to publish the report because, they say, is 'not in the public interest' to do so. But we believe the opposite is that case. All the indications are that the badger cull is incredibly expensive and inhumane while also being ineffective. They do not want the public to see how much this utterly failed badger cull programme is costing taxpayers, and how little benefit it is delivering to farmers."

"The Government's reluctance to release this information, proves what we have known all along, the badger cull is a hugely expensive, scientifically flawed and inhumane policy which is unlikely to make any significant contribution to lowering the level of bovine TB in cattle."

He added that the Defra Risk Registers - published in February 2015 after a three-year legal battle between the department and the Badger Trust - advised Ministers that the cull policy could lead to huge financial loss or budgetary over run:

"With DEFRA confirming the culls in 2013 and 2014 cost the tax payer £16.8 million or £6,775 per badger killed, these fears have proved well grounded. The Badger Trust calls on the Environment Secretary Liz Truss to immediately release the cost benefit analysis of the 2013 and 2014 pilot culls into the public domain."

Asked if the Badger Trust would be appealing to the Information Commissioner on Defra's refusal to deny the FOI request, Dyer indicated that a political route would could produce more immediate results.

Liz Truss is likely to come under questioning by MPs at Defra questions on Thursday this week, he said, as MPs of all parties come under increasing pressure from constituents on the ongoing badger cull fiasco.

A growing national scandal

Peter Martin, Chair of the Badger Trust said: "This policy is now becoming something of a national scandal. The levels of secrecy surrounding its implementation indicate that the Government has something serious to hide from us.

"The public and MPs should have been given full access to the cost benefit analysis on the pilot badger culls before any decision was taken to roll out the policy to new areas of the country. People's trust and confidence in the Government is being tested to its limit as all the indications from Defra's published figures suggest this policy is not only ruinously expensive but also failing on every measured indicator.

"This was supposed to be a farmer led and farmer paid for initiative, but as the taxpayer is picking up the bill the very least the Government should do is tell the truth about whether this money is being properly spent. One has to assume that if it was they would be more than happy to tell us, so I suggest we can draw our own conclusions on this.

"What is really worrying is that the Government constantly reiterates the culls will be extended round the country but if they cannot justify the expenditure then they should cancel the policy now."

Meanwhile, he added, there are plenty of effective, relatively inexpensive and uncontroversial measures that the government should be advancing right now, instead of wasting scarce resources on the politically-motivated badger cull:

"They should stop playing the badger blame game and focus on a programme of improved cattle control measures, biosecurity and TB testing systems, similar to those which have delivered a 48% drop in the level of new bovine TB cases in cattle in Wales over the last five years, without any badger culling.

"English farmers simply cannot wait any longer for the Government to get its act together on this and DEFRA should stop wasting their time and our taxes on this failed cull policy."

 

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