A cull of badgers to stop the spread of TB amongst cattle has been approved by the Prime Minister.
The controversial move, to be announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before Christmas, will infuriate animal welfare groups who question whether the UK's 300,000 badgers - a protected species - are responsible for spreading the disease.
The move follows lobbying by the Prince of Wales, who has written to Tony Blair about a badger cull, and whose Highgrove herd has been hit by tuberculosis. The National Farmers Union has warned that escalating TB is damaging the beef and dairy industry.
The Government is expected to propose giving farmers the right to shoot badgers where there have been TB outbreaks. Ministers are also to announce measures to stop cows spreading TB with restrictions on cattle movements.
Ministers are privately worried about a backlash from animal welfare groups. They want to cushion the announcement with a "consultation", to consider options for controlling the spread from badgers to cattle. Sources close to ministers say they have ruled out a "state-sponsored" cull throughout England, because it would be expensive and unpopular.
Mr Blair favours a cull, so long as animal welfare considerations are taken into account. Almost 10,000 cows were slaughtered after positive TB tests between January and April this year.
Animal welfare experts warn a limited cull could lead to other badgers expanding their territory and, potentially, spreading the disease to other setts.Reuse content