PRESSURE is growing for the gassing of badgers to be adopted as a more effective way of reducing bovine TB.
Jan Rowe, director of Gloscon, the company set up to run the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire, is urging Defra to speed up research into gassing using carbon monoxide.
This is seen by many as and admission that shooting – the culling method tested in Somerset and Gloucestershire – is not going to work. In both cull zones, the number of badgers killed fell well short of the numbers planned.
Defra has confirmed that it has commissioned research into the use of gas as part of its 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB.
It said it was also looking at developing "badger contraception, badger and cattle vaccines, tighter cattle movement controls and badger culling".
The call for gassing echoes that made by farmer and property developer Derek Mead earlier this year. He has set up the Badger Welfare Association to campaign for the use of gassing to eradicate TB-infected badgers – and insists there is nothing sarcastic about the group's name.
"We are genuinely concerned about the welfare of healthy badgers and we don't want to see them killed – as has been happening with the two pilot culls," he said.
"Our aim has always been to establish a population of healthy badgers, which farmers would be quite happy to live with. But, in order to do that, we have to remove the diseased ones.
"We have enough expertise to be able to identify setts with diseased badgers so that gas can be used to kill them quickly and painlessly."
Previous trials were halted after tests revealed that gas was not penetrating all the chambers.
But Mr Mead said: "They were only using a lawnmower engine, which was never going to be powerful enough.
"We have told Defra we would be happy to carry out our own, properly monitored trials across an area of Devon or Cornwall.
"This would be relatively easy to organise because, once we had identified the target setts, farmers could do the rest themselves."
Gassing badgers using cyanide gas was outlawed in 1982 on the grounds that it was inhumane.
Since then, carbon monoxide has been considered to be a more effective alternative, although anyone currently interfering with a badger sett would be committing an offence under the Badger Act.
NFU president Peter Kendall has already called for a widening of the methods under consideration for culling badgers.