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September 6, 2013

DEFRA Minister David Heath Accused of Misleading MP about Badger Cull Suffering

Heath misrepresented information about badger humane assessments

Humane Society International/UK

  • Badgers will suffer needlessly. Stuart Matthews

LONDON—Farming Minister David Heath misled a fellow Member of Parliament about the transparency of badger cull humaneness assessments. The badger cull pilots began in Somerset last week and in Gloucestershire this week.

Mr Heath misled Adrian Sanders MP in a written response on 2nd Sept. Mr Sanders asked Mr Heath why DEFRA had heavily redacted a document about assessing badger cull suffering before releasing it to Humane Society International/UK for public distribution. Mr Heath stated: 'Not doing so could adversely affect public safety and/or damage the environment. Non-disclosure of information in this manner is permitted and is in accordance with the Environmental Information Regulations, which include specific exceptions.'

In fact, the assessment of badger suffering was ordered to be released last month. That was the decision of the Information Commissioner’s Office, which in a decision dated 6th August had found that DEFRA was wrong to apply the Environmental Information Regulations in defence of its refusal to disclose. Mr Heath should have been fully aware of this at the time of his response.

Mark Jones, executive director of HSI/UK, said: 'Farming Minister David Heath owed a fellow Member of Parliament complete and up-to-date information on a subject that has aroused such strong public feelings and put so many animals in jeopardy.'

DEFRA refused to supply information to HSI/UK for nearly eight months. When it finally did, the vast majority of the 28-page document was blacked out. The agency has still not supplied the complete assessment as ordered.

DEFRA has consistently refused to answer how its so-called 'humaneness assessment'—one of the key stated purposes of the pilot culls—will be conducted. In spite of the Information Commissioner’s order to DEFRA to disclose, HSI/UK is still awaiting the information.

Few badger carcasses, representing less than five percent of badgers to be targeted, will be collected for examination during the pilot culls. DEFRA has failed to answer how these will be selected for post mortem examination; what examination protocols will be used to determine humaneness; and how shot and wounded badgers who retreat underground to die (and will arguably suffer the most) will be factored in to the humaneness assessment.

ENDS

Media contact: Wendy Higgins: +44 (0)7989 972 423, whiggins@hsi.org

Notes to editor:

1. Click here to see the PQ in full.
2. Click here to view DEFRA's heavily redacted document from May 2013.
3. Click here to read the ICO's decision in full from August 2013.
4. The sections of the EIR that DEFRA incorrectly cited to prevent disclosure are: Section 12.5.a of the regulations, which says that ‘a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that its disclosure would adversely affect… public safety’ and Section 12.5.g of the regulations, which says that ‘a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that its disclosure would adversely affect… the protection of the environment to which the information relates’.
5. For further information about DEFRA's lack of transparency, see Team Badger's report 'Keeping the Public in the Dark'.

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