Union leaders have condemned a secret hit list detailing dozens of DEFRA-related bodies that face the axe.

More than 50 DEFRA quangos and committees are included on the list of 177 arms-length government bodies set to be abolished.

Widely leaked to the media, the list includes the Agricultural Wages Board, the Commission for Rural Communities and the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

The planned abolition of many organisations was already known, but the Cabinet Office has launched an investigation into the leak.

Critics of the government’s austerity measures have accused ministers of playing politics with people’s lives.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said the list showed the coalition’s plans were being driven by ideology not necessity.

If reports were accurate, thousands of jobs were at risk and many vital services that benefited society and the economy would be lost, it said.

The government should enter into proper consultation and negotiation over the fate of organizations that faced abolition, warned the PCS.

Ministers had failed to provide reliable evidence for how much abolition would cost, or how much of the work such bodies do would remain.

Many non-departmental public bodies carried out statutory functions, and many needed to be independent to regulate and ensure good standards.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka (pictured) said: “This is a disgraceful way to treat staff who work hard and are committed to providing quality services.”

He added: “We do not accept the need for cuts to public spending.”

“Our alternative, of investment in public services and proper resources to tackle tax dodging, would help the economy to grow.”