Badgers blamed for 'moving the goalposts'
A blame game erupted last night amid bitter recriminations over whether badger culling "pilots" in the South West have been a success.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson yesterday toured television and radio studios to proclaim the killing of 850 badgers in west Somerset had been "safe, humane and effective".
But opponents said his department was exposed to accusations of "fixing" results as he confirmed marksmen had to shoot dead fewer badgers to meet targets.
The minister, however, said it was badgers "moving the goalposts" – not him – after he explained the revised goal was because the local population is smaller than estimated last year.
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A request has been made to extend the Somerset cull, and a second yet-to-be-complete "pilot" in Gloucestershire, to get the cull closer to a target cull rate of 70% from 59%.
But while the supportive National Farmers' Union hailed a "very important first step" towards a 25-year expansion of culling to tackle tuberculosis in cattle, critics labelled the process a "complete shambles".
"This pantomime is the creation of politics, and ministers should never have even begun on such a grotesque perversion of science," said Badger Trust chairman David Williams.
There were also calls last night from animal welfare groups for gassing to be ruled out as a culling method.