Farm leaders say they are unable to comment on a leaked report that suggests two pilot badger culls to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle were ineffective and inhumane.
The leaked document is said to contain the conclusions of the long-awaited Independent Expert Panel report on the culls carried out in Gloucestershire and Somerset last autumn.
The report was commissioned by the government to assess whether shooting badgers was a safe, effective and humane method of carrying out a cull.
It is an important study because DEFRA will decide whether to roll out the badger culling policy more widely based on its findings.
The document appears to show that 5% of badgers culled took longer than five minutes to die – failing the test for humaneness, according to the BBC on Friday (28 February).
The number of badgers killed also fell well short of the target number set out by scientists.
To be effective in controlling the disease in cattle, marksmen participating in the pilot culls were required to take out 70% of the local badger population.
In Somerset, only 940 badgers (65%) were killed – even though the trial was extended from six to eight weeks to give marksmen more time.
In Gloucestershire, the trial was extended by more than five weeks but at a total of 921 badgers it accounted for just 39% of the estimated badger population in the area.
British Veterinary Association president Robin Hargreaves said he was unable to comment in detail on the findings of the IEP until we have seen the report.
But he added: “If these figures are true then they would certainly raise concerns about both the humaneness and efficacy of controlled shooting.
“We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting.”
NFU director general Andy Robertson said: “The Independent Expert Panel’s report hasn’t been released yet so we’re unable to comment on its contents.
“Bovine TB is a huge threat to our beef and dairy farmers and we remain committed to controlling and eradicating it,” said Mr Robertson.
More than 30,000 cattle were killed in the first 11 months of 2013 because of the disease.
Mr Robertson said: “It is vital that we do everything we can to tackle the disease.
“Badgers play a key role in spreading bovine TB and so it’s essential that any TB eradication policy must include a targeted cull of badgers in those areas where TB is rife.”
A DEFRA statement on the leak said that the department was yet to see the report. DEFRA would not say when the final document would be formally published.