Badgers are to be inoculated with the tuberculosis vaccine used in humans in a trial aimed at tackling the spread of the disease in cattle, the Government announced yesterday.

The three-year £1.1m study will focus on a TB blackspot in south-west England, using the vaccine as an alternative to badger culls. The animal health minister, Ben Bradshaw, said the BCG vaccine could be an alternative solution to the problem.

The trials will start in the middle of next year . The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is also continuing work on a vaccine for cattle.

Researchers at the University of Exeter said there could be "dire consequences" for farming in the south-west if the problem was not addressed. Cases of TB are rising by 18 per cent a year, with more than 22,000 infected cattle culled last year.

Andrew Sheppard, of the University of Exeter's Centre for Rural Research, said: "While it seems the average farmer is compensated adequately for the measurable financial losses, there are also significant effects which cannot be quantified. Many farmers say that if they continue to suffer successive cases they will consider leaving the industry."

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