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September 26, 2013

Badger Culls: Accessing Information on Humaneness

Humane Society International/UK

  • Many thousands of badgers are likely to suffer during the culls. Stuart Matthews

Gravely concerned about the potential suffering of badgers targeted in the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset, HSI has been trying to establish how the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will measure the humaneness, or otherwise, of the methods employed by gunmen to shoot badgers.

HSI UK submitted a Freedom of Information request to DEFRA, asking five specific questions, in October 2012. DEFRA has resisted disclosure ever since. HSI involved the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the body that oversees Freedom of Information requests, in January 2013. The ICO ruled in HSI's favour and requested that DEFRA release the information in August 2013, DEFRA lodged an appeal against that decision in September 2013.

Timeline of events

31 October 2012: HSI/UK submitted a Freedom of Information request
It asked DEFRA for details on how 'humaneness' would be assessed. The request specifically asked five questions:

  • What proportion of badger carcasses will be collected for examination?
  • How are the carcasses going to be selected for examination?
  • Who will be examining them?
  • What examination protocols will be used to determine humaneness?
  • How will shot and wounded badgers who retreat underground to die be factored into any assessment of humaneness?

29 Nov 2012: DEFRA responded with some information, but refused to disclose further details.
In its response, DEFRA stated that 240 badger carcasses would be collected for examination, although that number was under review.

It refused to provide any further information, citing the Environmental Information Regulations on the grounds of public safety, and that the release of the information could ‘unduly influence and bias the results of the monitoring of the pilots’.

29 Nov 2012: HSI requested that DEFRA conduct an internal review on all counts.
As part of the department's review process, HSI asked for a review and clarified that our question, “Who will be examining them?” was not a request to reveal the identity of the individuals, but to establish the criteria by which those individuals would be selected.

29 Jan 2013: DEFRA internal review upheld decision to withhold information.
DEFRA confirmed that its Information Standards Team had reviewed our request, and upheld its decision not to release the information to us.

Among its justifications, it stated, relating to Q3, that 'there are so few people qualified to carry out such post-mortem examinations that releasing details of precise qualifications or organisations could easily lead to the identification of individuals', and relating to Q4 and Q5, that 'the results collated by those carrying out the cull could be manipulated if details of how the examinations are to be carried out were placed in the public domain'.

31 Jan 2013: HSI UK referred the issue to ICO.
Having received an unsatisfactory response from DEFRA, we brought the matter to the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body that oversees Freedom of Information requests, requesting it review the rationale used by DEFRA in refusing to release the information. A case worker was appointed on 3 April 2013.

16 May 2013: DEFRA released a heavily censored document.
Following discussions with the ICO, DEFRA supplied a heavily redacted document on humaneness to us. The document revealed some shocking details of the terrible suffering that may be endured by badgers targeted during the cull, but it didn’t provide sufficient answers to the questions we had asked.

21 May 2013: HSI UK expressed dissatisfaction to the ICO.
HSI UK confirmed its dissatisfaction with the information provided by DEFRA to the ICO, explaining in detail why it did not satisfactorily answer any of our original questions.

25 May 2013: ICO requested that DEFRA submit information.
The ICO confirmed it would relay our dissatisfaction to DEFRA and that it would ‘allow DEFRA a further 10 working days to provide its submissions [in support of the exceptions applied] in full’. On 14 June, ICO confirmed that DEFRA would supply further information.

28 June 2013: DEFRA responded with some information.
DEFRA provided the following information by email. Although the data provided some detail, below, it still did not satisfactorily answer the original questions we had asked.

  • 'Around 5%' of carcases will be collected for post mortem examination.
  • Carcasses will be selected ‘at random’ for examination, with the aim of selecting 120 shot with rifles and 120 shot with shotguns.
  • Post-mortem examinations will be carried out by veterinary surgeons who have received 'additional task-specific training'.

The outstanding questions remained under review in the hands of the ICO.

6 Aug 2013: ICO ruled in HSI UK’s favour
.The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that the government was wrong to refuse our access to information request. It instructed DEFRA to supply an uncensored copy of the earlier, heavily redacted, document detailing its methods and criteria for assessing the 'humaneness' of the pilot badger culls. The ICO issued a deadline of 10 September to supply the information or a deadline of 3 September for DEFRA to lodge an appeal against the ICO ruling.

20 Aug 2013: DEFRA requested deadline extension.
DEFRA was granted an extension by the Information Tribunal while it further considered whether to appeal the ICO’s decision. The extension gave DEFRA a new deadline of 23 September. HSI/UK was only informed of this decision on 16 September.

2 Sept 2013: DEFRA Minister misled a fellow MP.
Farming Minister David Heath misled a fellow Member of Parliament about the transparency of badger cull humaneness assessments in a written response to Adrian Sanders, MP.

23 Sept 2013: DEFRA lodged an 11th-hour appeal.
With only hours until the deadline expired, DEFRA lodged an appeal against the ICO ruling. After 11 months, this last 11th-hour appeal seemed to be nothing more than a cynical move by DEFRA to keep secret vitally important information about how badger pain and suffering is to be assessed during the pilot cull.

Further information about DEFRA's lack of transparency is included in Team Badger's report, "Keeping The Public In The Dark".

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