Allowing badgers to be gassed to control bovine TB would be a “shocking new moral low in the Government's disastrous cull policy”, campaigners have warned.
The pilot cull in West Somerset, designed to test the effectiveness of shooting free-running badgers, came to end last night.
It’s feared that the number of badgers culled may be significantly below the 70% of the badger population – some 2,00 animals – required, putting the success of the operation in jeopardy.
Animal welfare campaigners have now voiced fears that gassing the animals – a method favoured by some farmers – may be permitted after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed it researching whether it was a “realistic or humane method of culling”.
Wendy Higgins, communications director for Humane Society International UK, said: “Death by gassing can cause considerable animal suffering and if Defra resorts to this it will be a shocking new moral low in the Government’s disastrous badger cull policy.
“The gassing studies referred to in Defra’s 2005 review make for distressing reading, animals including cats, dogs, guinea pigs and monkeys enduring anything from tremors and vomiting to heart attack, suffocation, sudden urination and defecation, coma and death.
“Many of the gassing methods used have quite rightly been declared inhumane. But even with carbon monoxide there is a significant risk of suffering.
“Badger setts are very complex in structure, making it extremely difficult to achieve lethal gas concentrations sufficient to kill all the animals inside, or indeed kill them quickly.
“Many badgers could die a long, lingering and extremely unpleasant death and any cubs could be orphaned and left to starve because typically they are less susceptible to the gas.
“Badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire have already been subjected to indiscriminate shooting, it really would be immoral to subject more of these wonderful creatures to gassing.
“Instead of looking for more ways to kill badgers, DEFRA must surely acknowledge what is now beyond doubt – the badger cull is unscientific, unjustified, unethical and unnecessary.”
Defra said the research into gassing was “predominantly desk-based” and did not involve animals.
A spokesman said: “Initial research into the use of gas as a potential culling method is under way in line with the 25-year strategy which sets out plans for more sophisticated TB testing, developing badger contraception and badger and cattle vaccines, tighter cattle movement controls, and badger culling.
“It is not possible to say at this stage if or when gassing is likely to be a realistic or humane method of culling.”