16 September 2013 byBen Webster Environment Editor
Ministers will decide if the cull should be extended to 40 more areas Ben Birchall/PA
Ministers will use a “subjective judgment” of the humaneness of shooting badgers to help them decide whether to extend the cull to up to 40 more areas, the Government’s chief vet said. Nigel Gibbens revealed that there were “no definitive criteria for determining humaneness” of shooting badgers. He said this meant the final decision had to be taken by ministers rather than the independent panel of vets and scientists advising them.
Campaigners against the cull said the revelation that humaneness would be determined partly by personal opinion rather than purely on objective evidence cast more doubt on the scientific justification for killing badgers to reduce bovine TB.
About 5,000 badgers are due to be shot in Gloucestershire and Somerset by early next month in trials licensed to test whether shooting is an acceptably humane method of killing badgers.
After receiving the results, Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, who strongly supports farmers who blame badgers for infecting their cattle, will decide whether to license ten more cull zones a year for the next four years. More than 100,000 badgers could eventually be shot.In a letter in July to Humane Society International, which is campaigning against the cull,
Mr Gibbens wrote: “As judgments on humaneness are to some extent subjective, it is appropriate that a final decision on humaneness is taken by ministers, who are publicly accountable for their decisions and actions. However, this decision will be based on all relevant information collected during the monitoring, together with the panel’s expert assessment of this informaion.”
In a second letter last week, he added: “There are … no definitive criteria for determining humaneness in this context.” Mr Gibbens also pointed out that “controlled shooting” was a method “widely used and considered humane for culling other mammals, including deer, foxes and rabbits”.
Mark Jones, the director of Humane Society International and a vet, said: “The chief vet’s admission that there are no definitive criteria for measuring humaneness is extremely worrying because it suggests ministers will decide whether or not to roll out culling across large swaths of the countryside based on a highly subjective and completely secret assessment that appears to lack any scientific credibility or independent scrutiny. Measuring 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.”
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the trial culls were “not a science experiment”. Defra said in a statement: “Ministers will be provided with all the independently assessed evidence from the pilot culls, as well as advice from a range of experts on humaneness, before making a final decision on the suitability of the controlled shooting method.”
An animal charity said yesterday that it had received the body of a badger that had been shot in the Somerset cull zone but may have crawled some distance before dying. Elizabeth Mullineaux, a vet who advises Secret World Wildlife Rescue, said a post-mortem examination was being carried out but it was already clear “that death wasn’t instant as the badger had moved away from the shooter and was found by the volunteers rather than the Defra operative who shot it”.
Defra denied that the badger had been killed as part of the official culls. It said all those marksmen carrying out the cull had reported that all the badgers they had shot had been “killed instantly”.