RESEARCH is continuing into the possibility of gassing badgers to help stop the spread of bovine TB.
The environment secretary Owen Paterson confirmed the research as the firm behind a six week trial of badger culling in Somerset asked for more time to finish its task.
Marksmen reported falling short of their target of killing 70 per cent of the badger population. A similar time extension is being sought for a trial cull in Gloucestershire.
Mr Paterson said the Department for Food and Rural Affairs was looking at other methods including the use of gas.
Responding to a question from Green MP Caroline Lucas in the Commons, Mr Paterson said: "Until we can establish vaccines, we have to use the tools used by other sensible countries – which is to remove wildlife – we made it quite clear in our TB strategy we would look at other methods of removing wildlife, and yes we are looking at gassing, but we will not use it unless it is proven to be safe, humane, and effective."
In the Commons Labour MP Barry Sheerman called the cull "morally reprehensible" and asked Mr Paterson why he hadn't resigned.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said the gassing of badgers was "inhumane" and she hoped Mr Paterson's words "will not be interpreted as a green light for illegal gassing of settings, of which there have been credible reports".
At one time gassing was the preferred method of culling but it was dropped in favour of shooting, which is seen as more humane.
The RSPCA said it was "opposed to the use of gas to control badgers on welfare grounds and believes it is not humane as it may cause badgers to suffer prolonged deaths underground".
"We are extremely concerned about the Government's admission that it is looking into using gassing to cull badgers," the organisation said in a statement.