The culling of badgers, as part of the Government's strategy for controlling bovine tuberculosis in cattle, has proved extremely controversial and divisive, not least because of concerns over the humaneness of 'controlled shooting' (the shooting by marksmen of free-roaming badgers attracted to bait points at night).
In order to try to offset these concerns, the Government stated in its 2011 policy document that "If monitoring of the humaneness, effectiveness and safety indicates that controlled shooting is an acceptable culling technique, then and only then would this policy be rolled out more widely". It then licensed the 'pilot culls' that have been ongoing in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset over the past 2 years, in order to test whether these criteria could be met.
Following the first year of the pilot culls, the Independent Expert Panel commissioned by the Government to analyse the results concluded that the culls had failed on both effectiveness and humaneness. The panel concluded: "It is extremely likely that between 7.4% and 22.8% of badgers that were shot at were still alive after 5 min, and therefore at risk of experiencing marked pain. We are concerned at the potential for suffering that these figures imply".
The Independent Panel was disbanded before the second year of culling. In spite of this, the culls continued to receive the support of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), on the basis that recommendations made by the Independent Panel would be implemented. However, following last autumn's culls the BVA concluded that the results from the pilot culls "have not demonstrated conclusively that controlled shooting can be carried out effectively and humanely", and that it could "no longer support the continued use of controlled shooting as part of the badger control policy".
The Government's response has been to dismiss the BVA's concerns. Farming Minister George Eustice was recently quoted as saying that controlled shooting "is also used as a method of controlling all sorts of wildlife, such as foxes and deer... I am not persuaded on what they [the BVA] had to say on controlled shooting". In a response received on 2nd June to a Freedom of Information request by the Born Free Foundation, DEFRA has confirmed that "controlled shooting will continue to be authorised as a [culling] methodology".
The policy of culling badgers has consistently been shown to be unscientific, ineffective, inhumane and unnecessary. In spite of this it seems the Government is set to press on with its policy of licensing a killing method which has failed to satisfy either the Independent Expert Panel or the BVA, in terms of its humaneness.
A more progressive approach to controlling TB in cattle using cattle-based measures is badly needed, as is greater protection of our wildlife from cruel and unnecessary government-backed persecution.