Prime Minister David Cameron has stated he is “convinced” culling badgers should remain the centrepiece of plans to curb the spread of bovine TB (bTB).

Mr Cameron supported plans to expand culling beyond two pilot schemes, despite a delay to the roll-out and stated “farmers need this to happen”.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson announced in April the Government would not increase the number of badger culls this year.

However, Mr Cameron stated he supported the policy in the face of criticism from animal welfare campaigners and the Labour party.

He said: “We’re going ahead with the two schemes. They are four-year schemes, and I think it is very important we push ahead and complete those pilots. 

“This is not a popular decision. There are many people across our country who do not approve of this. I understand rural communities need this to happen, farmers need this to happen, and it’s the right thing to do.” 

Around £500m has been spent on compensation payments to English famers, but Mr Cameron warned it could rise to £1b.

He said: “I know some of the farming community want us to go even further, but I think completing the two pilots, demonstrating it is a system that works, will strengthen our hand in continuing to deal with the problem.” 

Asked whether culling could be extended, he said: “We are seeking to understand whether the controlled culling of badgers can play a part in reducing the incidents of TB in cattle. I believe it can. 

“If you look around the world, the countries that have tackled TB in cattle have had to take action in terms of TB in wildlife. That was the case in Ireland. In Australia. So I’m convinced.”

The independent expert panel (IEP) published a report on the two cull trials that found the methods to be ineffective. Both culls fell short of the 70% target for badgers killed with 7.4% to 22.8% of badgers alive for five minutes after being shot.

The report concluded: “If culling is continued in the pilot areas, or in the event of roll-out to additional areas, standards of effectiveness and humaneness must be improved.”

The Labour party has branded the decision a “fudge”. The second year of trials will resume this summer.

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