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May 30, 2013

Measuring “Humaneness” During the Badger Culls

Humane Society International/UK

  • How will DEFRA measure "humaneness"? Stuart Matthews

According to DEFRA, one of the three reasons for holding the pilot badger culls this summer is to assess whether killing more than 70 per cent of badgers in a cull zone within a six-week period can be done "humanely".

During the culls, data will be gathered to find out whether shooting free-roaming badgers at night with rifles and shotguns will prove to be an ‘acceptable’ way to kill them, from an animal welfare perspective.

And, once the cull is over, DEFRA will use the data collected to decide whether the culling can be rolled out—a decision that could sound the death knell for up to 130,000 animals in up to 40 different areas of England over the coming years.

Gravely concerned about badger suffering, we were keen to know what data was going to be collected, and how that data would be used by DEFRA to measure ‘humaneness’. So, in October last year, we wrote to DEFRA and asked.

Request for information

Seven months later, and only after the intervention of the Information Commissioner, DEFRA has finally released some information to us, but the document we’ve received is wholly inadequate, with large swathes of information blanked out.

Why is DEFRA so keen to keep us, you the public, and independent welfare experts in the dark about how it will go about measuring "humaneness"?

We have asked the Information Commissioner's Office to continue investigating DEFRA's refusal to provide answers to our key questions.

These are the questions we asked of DEFRA:

  • What proportion of badger carcasses will be collected for examination?
  • How are the carcasses are going to be selected for examination?
  • Who will be examining them (i.e. the criteria that will be used to select people, not the details of the individuals themselves)?
  • What examination protocols will be used to determine humaneness ? and
  • How will the suffering of those badgers who are shot and wounded, and who retreat underground to die, be factored in to the humaneness assessment?

No public scrutiny?

DEFRA has failed to explain exactly what data it will collect or how it will be subsequently used. So just how many badgers will have to suffer, by how much and for how long before it is considered inhumane, remains completely unclear.

Without this information, independent experts, vets, biologists and others are unable to assess what DEFRA means by "humaneness" and how it will reach conclusions which may trigger the killing of many thousands more badgers over large swathes of England.

It is simply unacceptable that DEFRA continues to be so evasive about how suffering will be measured during the pilot culls.

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