Farmers must wait further for a decision on whether to give the go-ahead to a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle.
A government announcement on a badger cull was expected to be made in February 2011 following a consultation that ended before Christmas.
But farm minister Jim Paice said issues surrounding its implementation meant he was unable to say when it would be announced.
“I still believe that culling badgers is an essential part of controlling bovine TB,” Mr Paice told delegates at the NFU’s annual conference on Wednesday (16 February).
But a delay was necessary because there would only be one opportunity to implement a badger culling programme and it was important to get it right.A short delay in announcing a decision would be worthwhile, Mr Paice told NFU delegates at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole hotel.
There were four main issues which the government was working to address before making an announcement, said Mr Paice.
First, it was vital to ensure that a cull was carried out properly and in line with any licensing conditions. Failure to adhere to the conditions meant hundreds of badgers could die for nothing.
Secondly, it was important to address concerns that culling badgers could displace infected animals and spread the disease to previously “clean” areas – a problem know as perturbation.
Thirdly, there were security issues surrounding government ministers, civil servants, farmers and contractors carrying out any cull. Mr Paice said he had held meetings with police anti-terrorism officers to discuss ways of minimising security risks and public order offences.
Finally, the legal side also had to be addressed. It was likely any cull would be subject to a judicial review – which would have to be overturned.
Unless these issues could be resolved, it would be impossible for a cull to go ahead.
Despite disappointment about the delay from farmers, NFU regions director Kevin Pearce said he remained convinced that a cull would eventually be announced.
“We don’t have a decision yet but that doesn’t mean that we have to stop planning,” he said.
Read more NFU Conference coverage 2011