THE Government should immediately address the issue of badger cull humaneness assessments as conflicting statements call into question their scientific credibility.

Humane Society International UK (HSI/UK) calls on farming minister David Heath to clarify after a letter contradicts statements he made earlier this month.

Pilot badger culls have begun in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Mark Jones, vet and executive director of HSI/UK, said: “It is clear from these statements that DEFRA is in disarray over the so-called humaneness assessments of these pilot culls.

We are extremely concerned that decisions will be made on whether culling can be rolled out over much wider areas of our countryside on the basis of humaneness assessments that have no scientific credibility.

“These contradictory statements and DEFRA’s withholding of information on how humaneness will be assessed calls into question whether DEFRA’s criteria can withstand independent scrutiny.

“It’s time for the Government to stop the killing and to explain before Parliament and the public.”

In March Mr Heath wrote to Professor Lord Krebs, a vocal critic of the Government’s cull policy, who set up the Independent Scientific Group that assessed the ten-year Randomised Badger Culling Trial completed in 2007.

In the letter Mr Heath states: “... the small scale of the pilots means that we would not be able to statistically determine either the effectiveness (in terms of badger removal) or humaneness of controlled shooting. As such, the pilot is not a scientific trial but rather a test of our assumptions about practical areas of uncertainty of the proposed policy.”

This statement appears to contradict numerous claims DEFRA ministers have made to the public, media and Parliament that the badger cull would be science-led and that the pilot culls were intended to enable a scientifically robust assessment of the humaneness of shooting free-roaming badgers.

Assessing the humaneness of shooting free-roaming badgers is one of the central stated aims of the pilot culls.

For nearly a year DEFRA has refused to release to HSI/UK the methodology and criteria it will use to assess suffering.

WENDY HIGGINGS, Humane Society International.