This last week I read many media articles in regard to ‘culling of badgers by gassing’ from various farming journals calling upon government ministers to introduce gassing as the best form of fumigation of setts. This is in the hope that, by reducing badger numbers, it will control the spread of Bovine TB. One particular article went so far as to threaten politicians in their rural constituencies at the next general election. This threat was by the National Farmers Union (NFU), who incidentally, do not have a position on the Trades Union Congress themselves.
Much is being mentioned that anoxic gassing (the method used in poultry) as a means to cull badgers, provides another option for those pro-cull supporters. I will attempt to explain the methodology into anoxic gassing as I have read thus far.
Anoxic gassing is by high concentration of Nitrogen (a gas we all inhale) – air is made up of 20.9% Oxygen and 79% Nitrogen – we breathe it every day. The documents I have read on this method for the alleged ‘humane euthanasia’ in poultry is within a controlled zone – a building (abattoir) whereby all the variants are known. It requires a vessel in the form of a barrel or tank, filled with foam/bubbles (expanding) containing nitrogen.
The poultry are then placed/forced into the container with, a minimum of 60 cm (2 feet) of head of, expanding foam above their heads and inhale the high concentration of Nitrogen. It is believed that as the poultry breathe Nitrogen by natural process, the poultry are unaware of Oxygen starvation – therefore, unconsciousness and death is quick (I also believe this is now being experimented on pigs). Because of oxygen deficiency (anoxia) the poultry dies between 1 ½ to 2 minutes and whereby, it is claimed, they at no time regain consciousness. As the poultry animal generally breathes nitrogen, it does not notice the extra 18% because they don’t realise they are dying so do not fight the procedure. This is unlike Carbon Dioxide (CO2) (Hypoxia) whereby the poultry tries to breathe.
Science and physics have experimented, whereby all the calculations would be proven – therefore, the required volumes and sizes of vessels and quantities of gas and foam are known. However, this cannot be applied to individual setts of badgers for the simple reason that is impossible to calculate the free air area to determine the quantity of chemicals and gas required. Furthermore, there is also the task of transporting plant machinery to the individual sett along with a consistent supply of water. I am unaware of the precise quantities required for anoxic gassing and assume that this method would require the capture of the badgers and for them to be transported to a place, whole house, whereby anoxic gassing will be executed as I fail to see how this can be achieved in the field.
Should badgers require capturing before anoxic gassing, then the argument for vaccination seems a sensible solution, and remains humane, as no research appears available on badgers as to the time period from application to death.
Culling of Badgers by Gassing
I still believe that Carbon Monoxide (CO) is the preferred method for the following reason – CO can be administered by the internal combustion engine (the generator), easily transported to most locations and easy to operate, de-tuned by partially obstructing the air intake, fuelled by Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG). This was the method of choice in Australia to cull rabbits. Many would believe that it is simply a matter of starting up the generator, attaching a hose to the exhaust, and placing the opposite end into the entrance of the tunnel of the sett.
There are too many variables to be considered before applying this methodology of fumigation, though, and wishing not to repeat previous correspondence of factors, health and safety alone would need to be adopted and applied with extreme caution. The Agricultural Industry currently has the poorest record amongst all industries within the UK.
For example, here are the recent statistics from the HSE over a five-year period (2008 – 2013) – within farming for drowning and/or asphyxiation – farming was 7% and other industries were 3%. There is over double the fatality rate in farming compared to the whole combined industries within the UK. Farming fatalities involving the public between 2001 and 2012 by drowning and/or asphyxiation was 8%, therefore, this demonstrates to me that the farming industry should not be permitted to cull badgers by means of a highly toxic, lethal poisonous gas (Carbon Monoxide) based on the Health & Safety Executive report for the agricultural industry.
I began my career in 1975 as a traditional apprentice in mechanical engineering wherby serving every level through to management and trainer. Now I serve as a consultant and advisor (unpaid), to ANEC (The European consumer voice on standardisation) in Brussels, on both gas and carbon monoxide to the European Commission. In all that time, some 38 years, I have never witnessed more ridiculous and irresponsible proposals such as these by the current government. If it was possible to fumigate badgers by CO humanely (and it is not), it would require vigorous training programmes for persons to achieve a reasonable level of competence. Having read many documents, including those by Defra, I observed the different experiments and trials to date that have been carried out on CO as the preferred method and I quote the document ‘Fumigation of a Y-shaped tunnel using a portable CO generator – A report to Wildlife Species and Conservation Division, Defra, 20 December 2006‘:
“Defra (Defra, 2005c) reviewed the possible delivery methods of CO into a sett and suggested a detuned, idling vehicle petrol engine without catalytic converter as a feasible delivery method. Subsequent discussions with the inventors of a portable CO generator (PCOG) in Australia (Gigliotti et al., 2005), suggest that this device may be easier to use Fumigation of a Y-shaped tunnel using a portable CO generator and to approve the gas produced than a vehicle petrol engine.
However, questions still remain regarding the use of gas produced from this generator as a fumigant for badgers. Specifically, further work needs to be carried out to investigate 1) whether it is possible to obtain potentially lethal concentrations of CO throughout a complex sett and in different soil conditions, 2) the welfare implications of gas flow rate, 3) the effects of by-products in the fumes, and 4) the lethal concentration of CO for badgers.”
Firstly, carbon monoxide gas will take the route of less resistance. Therefore, within any sett, each bend poses resistant to the flow rate. Secondly, the exhaust fumes from the generator by the internal combustion engine will contain other irritants other than CO. Thirdly, after filling the sett with CO on the assumption death has occurred, the sett will require ventilating to disperse all the gas, tested with scientific electronic measuring instrumentation and recorded to declare that individual zone safe and completely free of CO gas. Any remaining CO, if left abandoned, could injure or kill following a fumigation. Recently, Sept 2013, I was instructed to carry out an investigation into a single human fatality whereby CO poisoning was known as the cause of death. As an investigator, our brief is not to point fingers of blame but to report our findings to the Coroner’s inquest or the courts. What many people are unaware of, are the new rules and powers that coroner’s now have and I quote ‘Article 2 from the European Convention of Human Rights‘:
“Where it appears that one or more persons acting on behalf of the state are, or maybe, in some way implicated in a death either by their actions or inaction, the state is under an obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights to initiate an effective public investigation by an independent body. In such circumstances, the scope of the inquest may be wider”
Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that if a fatality occurs whilst culling Badgers from CO (and the coroner records a verdict of Neglect), criminal charges would be brought on Manslaughter, a custodial sentence that carries a maximum of 14 years imprisonment. Guidance that I suspect will not be commonly known to the average employee and places a Duty of Care on employers and employee’s including the self-employed.
I would also question the thinking of ministers in suggesting the cull of Badgers by CO gassing, this is not vermin control, on the contrary, CO, as all gasses, requires a good knowledge and understanding of their behaviour particularly as a lethal gas. Should the cull areas be extended to possibly a national programme, how many personnel will be required? Hundreds or thousands will need be trained by a government – with the knowledge not just to poison animals, but humans as well. I wonder what the thoughts of the Chief of Police Officers Association are on these proposals in a time when the public are constantly reminded to remain vigilant on terrorism?
As an expert on CO poisoning and its prevention, I, along with my colleagues, refrain on how much information we make available to the general public with particular regard to methods, formulas and calculations of this gas. We all have a ‘duty of care’ to the general public to protect life.
I find it extraordinary that such proposals exist in a country that claims to be civilised (by its politicians) and yet, a select number remain content to permit lethal gassing in uncontrolled zones by, I assume, poorly trained operatives whom possibly will be a danger unto themselves and public when there is a readily available vaccine for bTB.