DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn has ignored calls for a badger cull for tackling bovine tuberculosis.

In a widely-expected decision which was met with criticism from MPs, Mr Benn said he had “weighed the evidence with an open mind”, but could not sanction a cull.

“Having listened to all the views and considered all the evidence, I have come to the decision that while a badger cull might work, it might also not work,” he said.

“I have to look at the science and practicality of a cull. I do not think it would be right to take this risk.”

Vaccine priority

Mr Benn said he realised many farmers would be angry with the decision, but said it was vital the industry worked with government to tackle the disease.

With that in mind, he pledged £20m over the next three years to make developing TB vaccine a “priority”.

But he warned MPs: “It could be some time before a vaccine becomes available, so we must stop the spread of the disease.

“We have controls in place to tackle it.  It would be possible to tighten these further, but those would come at a high cost and whether these would be worthwhile is a question for the industry rather than government.”

‘Spineless’

He said he would launch a TB partnership group of farmers and industry specialists to discuss these issues.

The group would look at methods of tackling the disease and rolling out the vaccine when it became available.

However Mr Benn’s announcement was met with criticism by MPs.

Torridge and Devon West MP Geoffrey Cox said the decision was a “spineless abdication of responsibility” and did nothing to help the livestock farmers whose businesses had been decimated by the disease.

‘Demoralised’

Shadow environment secretary Jim Paice said Mr Benn had “failed to deliver”, while EFRA chairman Michael Jack warned the decision would be met with “fear and anger” by farmers.

“Without a cull there can be no effective biosecurity measures,” he said.

Meanwhile Roger Williams. MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said Mr Benn had favoured “populist appeal over sound science”.

“How many farmers will join the partnership group when they feel so demoralised?”

See the Badger cull special report.