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I WOULD like to explain the role of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) in the badger culling pilots.The IEP was established to help ministers evaluate the effectiveness (in terms of the numbers of animals removed), humaneness and safety of shooting badgers in the two pilot areas. There are two broad strands to the terms of reference for the IEP: quality assurance and quality control. The quality assurance aspect of the terms of reference relates to overseeing the development of scientifically robust protocols. Advice on the robustness of the data collection and analysis by the research teams, and provision of comment on the factors that may have influenced the results, fall into the ‘quality control’ responsibility of the IEP.
Mark Jones and colleagues (VR, May 25, 2013, vol 172, p 562) expressed concern over how humaneness will be assessed. Perhaps I can provide some reassurance that the humaneness aspects (including the possibility of wounding) are of enormous importance to the IEP. Great effort is, therefore, being expended to ensure that the protocols for observed shootings and for postmortem examinations address, adequately, the question of identifying if non-rapidly fatal wounding has occurred. Non-retrieval of badger cadavers is also a crucial feature of the observed shootings protocol.
It is important to appreciate that the purpose of the badger culling pilots is to examine how well industry can deliver safe, humane and effective culling by controlled shooting in the field. These pilots are not experiments and the opportunity exists for modification of the protocols should this be thought necessary in the light of experience. On completion of the pilots, detailed protocols and interpretation of the findings will be published to allow third-party scrutiny.
In summary, the primary role of the IEP is to ensure that the collection, analysis and reporting of data to support the assessment of the issues outlined above are as robust as possible. These data will be used to inform decisions that will, ultimately, be taken by ministers.
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