Gas could be used to kill badgers as part of the Government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has revealed his department is looking into the possibility of deploying the agent as a means of controlling the badger population, amid reports that some of the animals had already been gassed illegally.
Mr Paterson said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would not, however, resort to gassing badgers until evidence could prove it was a humane and effective way of disposing of them.
Speaking during a Commons debate about the pilot badger culls in west Somerset and Gloucestershire, where the disease is most prevalent, he said: “Until we can establish vaccines, we have to use the tools employed by other sensible countries which is to remove wildlife. We made it quite clear in our TB strategy that we would look at other methods of removing wildlife. And yes we are looking at gassing, but we will not use it unless it is proven to be safe, humane and effective.”
Mr Paterson’s comments were a response to a question from Brighton and Hove Green MP Caroline Lucas during Defra Questions.
The Government commissioned research into gassing badgers infected with TB in their setts as part of the TB Strategy published in July.
Labour MP for Sefton Central Bill Esterson raised concerns over the reports of some gassing of badgers having already taken place. “Will you confirm that you instruct your officials, who come across any evidence of gassing of badgers, that they will give such evidence to the police?”
Mr Paterson replied: “Emphatically yes, because any random cull would worsen the disease.”
Earlier this week, Mr Paterson confirmed the cull in Somerset, which has now ended, had removed only 60 per cent of the local badger population, falling short of a 70 per cent target. An application for the Somerset cull to be extended by up to three weeks is set to be repeated for the cull in Gloucestershire.
In an interview following the announcement, Mr Paterson appeared to blame the shortfall on the animals themselves, saying “the badgers had moved the goalposts”, and Labour’s Angela Smith mocked the Environment Secretary for his comments in the Commons.
She asked: “Is it not the Environment Secretary that’s moved the goalposts and not the badgers? And has he not scored a massive own goal in pursuing this misguided cull?”
Defending his remarks, Mr Paterson said: “No. I don’t know if you saw my comments, I was stating the screamingly obvious. These are wild animals, who live in an environment where their numbers will be impacted by weather and disease.”