Badger cull panel members named

A panel of independent experts who will oversee the two pilot badger culls in England has been announced by DEFRA.

Christopher Wathes, chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC), will chair the panel of five experts.

The group has been tasked with reporting to ministers the findings of the two pilot culls, in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire, by the end of 2012.

The pilot, which will be paid for by farmers, will test how safe, humane and effective “controlled shooting” of free running badgers is, DEFRA said.

The panel will be asked to oversee and evaluate the pilots and report to ministers, before a decision is made on whether to roll out the policy more widely in 2013.

DEFRA said the members have been appointed for their expertise in animal welfare, veterinary pathology, badger ecology, wildlife population biology, marksmanship and the management of wild animal populations.

The panel consists of Ranald Munro, a forensic pathologist and former head of pathology at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, and former president of the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Neville Gregory, a professor of animal welfare physiology at the Royal Veterinary College.

Piran White, a personal chair and deputy head of the Environment Department at York University, Timothy Roper, emeritus professor at the University of Sussex and an expert in badger behavior and Peter Watson, executive director of the Deer Initiative and a non-executive director of Deer Management Qualifications, complete the panel.

DEFRA said around 25,000 cattle are slaughtered annually in England because of bovine TB, with the cost to the taxpayer set to top £1bn over the next 10 years.

The problem is particularly acute in west and south-west England, where nearly a quarter of all cattle farms were affected by the disease in 2010.

Research shows that culling badgers can lead to a 16% reduction in new infections in herds.

While farmers and the government have said a cull is necessary to tackle the disease, they have faced strong opposition from animal welfare and wildlife groups, including the Badger Trust, who argue it may make the situation even worse.

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