Caroline Spelman remained tight-lipped when asked whether the Tories would honour its manifesto pledge for a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis.

Less than two weeks after her appointment, the DEFRA secretary said the spread of bovine tuberculosis over the past decade made finding a solution difficult because infected badgers now covered such a wide geographical area.

In a comment that suggests she had been briefed by the same civil servants as her predecessor, Hilary Benn, Mrs Spelman said: “I am clear that we’ve got to really have a science-based approach here – that there isn’t an easy answer.”

Reminded that Mr Benn’s interpretation of the science had led him to rule out a badger cull, Mrs Spelman said: “I am not going to rule options in and out. What we need to do is look at the science.”

And she added: “I am a great believer in evidence-led decision-making, so let’s first of all look at the science – all options need to be looked at. Over and above that I have really nothing more to add.”

The Tory farming manifesto, A New Age for Agriculture, promised immediate measures to combat bovine TB. “We will introduce a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas of high and persistent levels of TB in cattle,” it pledged.