Former DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn has condemned government plans to combat bovine tuberculosis by allowing farmers to cull badgers.

Farmers could be granted badger culling licences from next May following a consultation launched on Wednesday (15 September).

Mr Benn, who is now shadow DEFRA secretary, said the government had made a mistake which could spread the disease rather than reduce it.

“This is the wrong decision. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that we must overcome, but we have to use means that will work.

Mr Benn acknowledged that bovine TB had devastating effect on cattle and livelihoods, saying he understood farmers were desperate for action.

But badger culling had already been tried, with independent scientists concluding that it could not meaningfully contribute to the control of bovine TB.

“As secretary of state, I agreed with this scientific judgement,” said Mr Benn.

“It would be neither practical nor publicly acceptable, and getting it wrong could actually make matters worse.”

“Shooting badgers may make ministers feel that they are doing something, but it is not the way to beat this disease.”

Mr Benn, who served as DEFRA secretary from 2007-2010, maintained vaccination was the way forward.

The government’s decision to cancel five of six vaccine demonstration projects was also a mistake, he said.