Farming unions have welcomed the Welsh Assembly government’s decision to authorise a cull of badgers in Wales.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales said the announcement marked an important step towards reducing bovine TB in an area with one of the highest rates of the disease in Europe.

Brian Walters, the union’s bovine TB spokesman and a Carmarthenshire dairy farmer, said this approach had been shown to reduce the chances of cattle becoming infected with the disease.

A paper published by the FUW last summer suggested a badger cull in north Pembrokeshire could reduce herd incidences of bovine TB by 30% during a five-year cull and by 32% in a three-and-a-half-year period following culling.

“Without decisive, science-based action we will not see the outcome we all want, which is cattle and badgers free of disease,’’ said Mr Walters.

“With the cost to the taxpayer expected to reach more than £30m this year, bovine TB remains a major concern for the Welsh Assembly Government and one of the most serious economic issues facing the Welsh farming industry. And for those forced to watch their businesses being closed down and their animals removed for slaughter, the emotional cost is one that cannot be assigned a monetary value.”

NFU Cymru believed Elin Jones’ announcement confirmed the assembly government’s on-going commitment to free Wales of bovine TB.

Deputy president Stephen James said that by tackling the disease in wildlife as well as cattle the government had embarked on the correct course of action.

“We recognise that the decision to cull wildlife in disease hotspots is not an easy one for the One Wales government. However the farming industry does agree with the Assembly Government that this is the only viable option to deliver a successful eradication programme in the Intensive Action Area,” said Mr James.

NFU Cymru would support a vaccine as part of a range of measures to help rid Wales of bovine TB but it said vaccination was not a viable option in the Intensive Action Area.

“Vaccination prevents disease, it does not cure it, we know that there is a significant reservoir of disease within the badger population of the IAA. Until this is dealt with, even if a proven vaccine was available, its impact would be extremely limited,’’ insisted Mr James.