David Cameron has admitted that the proposed badger cull trials will involve “no end of difficulties”, including policing problems.
But the Prime Minister insisted that the two pilot schemes aimed at controlling the spread of bovine tuberculosis were the “right thing to do” despite the concerns of wildlife campaigners.
Mr Cameron said that those protesting against the decision to cull badgers were forgetting that the species was also suffering from the “terrible” disease.
Six-week trials are due to take place in two areas this autumn and if successful, they could lead to a wider cull across the country as part of efforts to tackle TB in cattle.
In an interview with BBC One’s Countryfile, broadcast on Sunday (January 15) Mr Cameron said the situation was “very difficult” but “what we want is healthy cattle but we also want healthy badgers and I think sometimes the critics of the culling trials forget that in the end it’s the badgers who are also suffering from this terrible disease as well”.
He added: “I think it’s right to take this difficult step to have these pilots – we’re going to have to watch very closely about how they’re put in place, how they’re carried out, but in the end the aim is healthy cattle, healthy badgers.”
Next month’s NFU annual conference, which will be addressed by DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman, is set to be targeted by animal rights protesters angry at the proposed culls.
Campaigners from Animal Rights UK have set up a Facebook page calling on supporters to attend the protest.
Amid growing concerns over the safety of farmers and the public, Mr Cameron admitted that the trials could be difficult to police.
“But the question we faced as a Government is when you’ve got all this evidence that culling should be part of – only part of – a balanced package of measures, do you just sweep it under the carpet and announce another review or do you say OK, we need to get on and see if we can make this work?”
Mr Cameron used the interview to confirm that a vote on whether to end the hunting ban – which is a commitment of the Coalition agreement – will be held before the next general election, likely to be in 2015.
He said: “I always thought the hunting ban was a pretty bizarre piece of legislation.
“I think there should be a free vote in the House of Commons. I think that the House of Commons should make its mind up about this.
“My problem has always been that it was just taking the criminal law into an area of activity where it didn’t really belong.
“But it will be for the House of Commons to decide and then it will be for the government to act on that after a House of Commons decision.”
In a bid to protect the interests of British farmers, he also indicated the UK could take legal action against other European Union members who do not meet strict animal welfare regulations.
Read more on the badger cull and bovine TB
Join the conversation about reaction to this announcement on our badger cull forum