The Conservative Party has given its backing to implementing a badger cull to tackle bovine TB if it wins the next election.

Shadow DEFRA secretary Nick Herbert said a targeted cull of infected badgers would form part of the party’s broad strategy to tackle the disease.

Speaking after meetings with farmers affected by the disease in Devon, Mr Herbert said action needed to be taken immediately and a badger cull must be part of the solution.

“This is an animal welfare issue,” he said. “Everybody loses from the government running away from this problem – cattle are being slaughtered, badgers are suffering, farmers’ livelihoods are being damaged and taxpayers are footing the bill.”

About 40,000 cattle were slaughtered in England and Wales last year as a result of the disease, something that could not continue while the reservoir of infection in wildlife was ignored, he added,

“Sick badgers are responsible for a significant number of herd breakdowns and unless there is a policy to remove them we stand little chance of eradicating this terrible disease.”

Mr Herbert also slammed the government’s approach of waiting for a vaccine for badgers while thousands of cattle and increasing numbers of other species were infected, claiming it was “irresponsible”.

“The Conservatives want to see healthy cattle living alongside healthy wildlife but at the moment in many parts of the country we have neither.”