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New row flares up over South West badger cull figures

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 10, 2014

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The Government has been accused of “underhand” tactics after ministers admitted an independent audit of the South West badger culls will be limited to their first six weeks.

Farming Minister George Eustice conceded the so-called Independent Expert Panel’s remit will not include looking at the extra three weeks of culling in Somerset, and further five weeks in Gloucestershire, which are part of the policy to tackle tuberculosis in cows.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the panel believed six weeks of data was sufficient.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP who posed the question in the House of Commons, said: “The Government knows that its inhumane policy has no basis in scientific evidence, but is determined to carry on regardless.

“Curtailing independent scrutiny of the cull is an underhand move to push for longer culls.

“It is deliberately restricting the remit of the expert panel as a get-out to justify the failure of the culls. If the panel concludes that culling was not effective, Defra can argue that longer culls are necessary in future. It is incredibly disingenuous of the Government to seek a get-out to justify pressing ahead with a policy that has been a spectacular failure.”

The Independent Expert Panel will advise ministers on whether to extend culling to other areas.

The two “pilots” will be assessed on whether they were safe, humane and effective, and could be rolled out to up

to 40 areas to tackle bovine TB, which is rife in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

Both the Somerset and Gloucestershire culls were extended beyond their initial six-week allotted period after marksmen failed to shoot dead 70% of the local badger population. The target is significant as falling short risks spreading the disease further.

During Defra Questions yesterday, Ms Lucas asked: “The remit of the Independent Expert Panel was originally restricted to the planned six-week badger cull period and my understanding is that that remit was not extended when the badger culls were themselves extended.

“Can the Secretary of State reassure the House today that the Independent Expert Panel’s scope and report will cover the whole of the culling period and not just the first six weeks, because it is really important that his decisions are informed by wider experience of the whole cull.”

Mr Eustice replied: “The Independent Expert Panel will cover the initial cull period, not the extensions.”

In Gloucestershire, only 40% of the local badger population was shot dead by trained marksmen. The Somerset cull was marginally more successful, getting closer at 65%.

A rollout could mean culling in neighbouring Devon and into Cornwall – both considered bovine TB hotspots.

The disease, said to be spread by badgers, led to the slaughter of 28,000 cattle last year – more than 20,000 in the South West – at a cost of £100 million to the taxpayer.

A Defra spokesman said: “The Independent Expert Panel were consulted on whether they wanted to look at the extension periods and they confirmed that the data from the initial six weeks was sufficient to assess the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of the pilots.”

During the Commons session, Labour once again urged the Government to put extending culling to a vote in Parliament. But environment secretary Owen Paterson said he was “not prepared to put any pressure on the independent panel”, and criticised Labour for opposing the plan to tackle the disease in wildlife.

“We cannot ignore this disease like the last Government did,” he said.

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  • Clued-Up  |  January 10 2014, 2:51PM

    I think Paterson's done everything he CAN do to manipulate the results of the Independent Panel of Experts. DEFRA staff sit in on every (reported) meeting. There seem to be delays in providing the Panel's members with what they've asked for. There's so little detail written up in the minutes that the members will only be able to remember what they've agreed if they themselves keep comprehensive records. It also seems to me that Paterson's continuing to do whatever he can to manipulate the results and the Panel's report. The MPs in the most recent debate homed in on this behaviour. They've called for full disclosure to Parliament (not just to DEFRA) of the Panel's meetings and report. They want the Panel to include more scientists in its membership. They want the Panel to have a broader remit. It's interesting that Paterson's already saying HE'LL decide what notice to take of the Independent Panel's report ... it must indicate he's not yet confident he'll get the answers he wants. In (yesterday's?) Hansard, one MP said the Prime Minister's office was looking for an escape route from the badger cull - let's hope they find one very, very soon.

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  • groundnut  |  January 10 2014, 10:16AM

    I cannot honestly believe that the IEP when offered to view Data on the Cull extension period turned down, any such offer. Any professional body undertaking such a review, would in my view not decline to review any such data. It is certainly very relevant, particularly in view of the Public interest and mistrust of the Politics behind this Killing exercise. It is also relevant because of the circumstances which surrounded the Cull extensions, particularly that in Gloucester. Where not only was the Cull terminated by Natural England withdrawing the Licence, but also weather conditions were below freezing and yet Cage trapping was not suspended. Presumably the Chairman of the IEP will testify in writing for public consumption. That he was aware of the total content of the data and of the conditions pertaining. And that he and his Panel had individually seen all the data, and then come to a decision. That the data was not relevant or that it had been discarded by the Panel. Furthermore I now believe that that data should be requested by an outside competent scientific body by FOI. In order that it comes into the public Domain, and is assessed. As it should have been by the IEP. This (ANON) statement by DEFRA , if confirmed by the IEP panel itself. Calls into question the comprehensive and competent nature of this review. Or are we all being foisted by more Politics ??

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