Farm leaders say they do not condone any illegal activity following reports that farmers have gassed badgers to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle.
Farmers who gassed badgers were breaking the law, said the NFU, following a Sky News report that farmers in Somerset had used exhaust fumes to kill badgers in their setts.
An NFU spokesman said: “Gassing badgers is currently illegal. The NFU does not condone any illegal activity.
“Nor do we recognise the line that these culls have been a failure and will lead to illegal gassing or the further spread of TB.”
A Somerset farmer admitted that he and others have been gassing badgers illegally, according to the Sky News report.
Dominic Dyer, policy adviser for Care for the Wild, who worked with Sky News on the report, said he was “shocked but not surprised” by the revelation.
Farmers on at least 14 farms had been taking the law into their own hands while the government’s official badger cull has been taking place, he said.
“This confirms our suspicions that farmers will go to any length to eradicate badgers from around their farms,” said Mr Dyer.
“This is an illegal cull hidden under a legal one – for every badger shot as part of the cull, there are genuine concerns that one or more maybe being killed by gassing or other illegal methods.
“Gassing is a horrific way to wipe out families of badgers. And the frightening thing is that we now hear that DEFRA is investigating gassing as a legitimate culling method.
The revelation came after DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson announced the government’s intention to extend the Somerset cull, which ended on Monday.
Mr Paterson also announced that there were far fewer badgers in the cull zone than first thought.
The NFU rejected suggestions that the cull was in disarray.
“In Somerset the company has reached a 60% reduction in the badger population,” said the NFU spokesman.
“The chief vet has advised that the 60% reduction this year will deliver clear disease benefits as part of a four-year cull.”