A proposed badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle could end up costing farmers more than an outbreak of the disease, the RSPCA has claimed.
Government ministers are set to decide this month whether to give the go-ahead for farmers to cull badgers in England.
A DEFRA consultation on the issue ended before Christmas.
The RSPCA said it was “extremely concerned” about the plans, which were more likely to increase the incidence of bovine TB in cattle rather than reduce it.
A cull could cause suffering to badgers, said the animal welfare charity. It would be uneconomic, time-consuming and difficult to put into effect.
RSPCA spokesman David Bowles said: “We want to make sure farmers are fully aware about what is in store for them.
“These plans are just not economically viable and they would be the ones left with most of the costs.”
Dealing with the disease in cattle currently costs taxpayers about £80m a year. The government has confirmed that farmers would be expected to pay for any badger cull – should it be given the go-ahead.
Livestock farmers who favour culling badgers believe the additional cost will be a price worth paying to rid their farms of the disease.
But Mr Bowles said any cull would have to be rigorous and follow stringent conditions if it was to be effective.
“The more rigorous the conditions, the higher the cost will be and so the more uneconomic it will be.”
The RSPCA did not believe that licensing groups of farmers to carry out the cull by shooting would substantially eradicate bovine TB in cattle, said Mr Bowles.
“Any decision for a widespread cull of badgers would be totally unacceptable to the RSPCA and it is extremely concerned about how this cull may be carried out.”
Mr Bowles also said it would be near impossible for DEFRA or Natural England to monitor licensed farmers or landowners.
Shooting badgers could lead to wounding and unnecessary suffering, he said.
Some farmers could end up spending more money over a four-year period than an incident of bovine TB might cost them.
Mr Bowles said the RSPCA wanted to draw farmers’ attention to the issue ahead of this week’s NFU conference in Birmingham.
There has been speculation that ministers would time the badger cull announcement to coincide with the event.
But a DEFRA spokeswoman said it was important to ensure that the correct decision was made, rather than coming to a conclusion quickly.
• Read more NFU Conference coverage 2011