The Cull’s Not Over: Is the UK Government Preparing to Gas Badgers Next?
The UK government has revealed that it is preparing a long term strategy after last year’s disastrous badger cull effort — another cull, this time possibly in the form of gassing.
The information, released under a Freedom of Information request, details how the government’s Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), began gas testing in 2013 as part of a long-term strategy to wipe out bovine TB. The tests, at an undisclosed location in England, were to gauge how poisons like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide would flow through the tunnels and passageways of badger setts.
The information released on Thursday, May 15 notes that so far no tests on live badgers have occurred, and there is no end date for these tests — and so no start date for implementation, either.
This comes after the government embarked on two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset where free-running badgers were shot or, reports later revealed, caged and then shot. The pilot schemes had to kill at least 70 percent of badgers in the pilot areas to reduce the spread of bovine TB. Neither cull managed a rate even close to that, but cost about £7 million and worked out to about £2,246 per badger. In contras,t the vaccination program that the Welsh government implemented, that the UK government said would be too costly, ended up coming in at just £662 a head.
Furthermore, scientists who analyzed the data showed that at least 5 percent of badgers who were shot as part of the cull took more than five minutes to die, meaning the culls failed to meet the “humaneness” criteria the government had set out. While a nationwide cull is now ruled out, Defra has said it will embark on another pilot scheme later this year.
Farmer’s unions, who have the ear of the Conservative majority within the coalition government, contend that culling is necessary to finally tackle bovine TB. Estimates say that bovine TB costs cattle owners thousands of cattle every year (one figure says 23,000 every year, though that figure is disputed). They contend, despite evidence that badgers do not account for the total spread of the disease, that culling badgers should be a key part of a government scheme to tackle the disease.
Cull critics charge that the government, in listening to farmers, ignored scientific data, even noting that some top experts who had been for a cull said the government’s planned scheme would not work — and that it clearly has not. Now they charge that the government may be considering another ill-thought out campaign, and one that could cause a great deal of animal suffering.
“Gassing has already been shown by research to not be humane,” veterinarian Mark Jones, executive director of Humane Society International, told the Guardian. He notes that it is difficult to estimate a lethal dose, and so the animals may suffer. Also, gassing is less effective on badger cubs and so we could end up leaving a number of young animals without parents, which will either starve to death or be prey for other animals. What’s more, gassing could kill a number of other animals including rabbits, foxes and otters.
Surprisingly, critics say, Defra already knows this. It has commissioned study after study in which it has attempted to assess the effectiveness of gassing as a wildlife management strategy and, just as recently as 2005 concluded that gassing, when it comes to stopping the spread of bovine TB, will not work. The fact that Defra is “exploring” this option again, and indeed appears to be taking it from the drawing-board to real-life tests, has alarmed not just those against the cull but animal welfare campaigners as well.
Reacting earlier this year when Princess Anne advocated a gassing cull as a “humane solution,” Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild, is quoted as saying,” The anti-badger cull protest movement is one of the biggest we’ve ever seen, so if Ministers want to ensure it gets even bigger, then go ahead and start gassing. Cyanide gas was used to kill badgers in the 1970s, leading to a huge public outcry, and there were hugely controversial trials of gassing techniques using ferrets and badgers at Porton Down in 1982, which led Tory agriculture ministers to demand an immediate stop to all gassing research.”
The government has remained mostly tight-lipped on the subject except to highlight that, so far, there are no plans to roll out a gassing program. It is unlikely that the government will want to move on gassing or any further badger culls until after the 2015 general elections because of the protests that have come up as a result of this contentious, and many argue unwise, policy.
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