An incoming Labour Government would be “minded to” halt a badger cull according to Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh.
Speaking at a NFU fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Manchester, Ms Creagh said her position had changed from a year ago when she thought they may have to continue with the controversial control measure.
It came as farmers insisted they stood firm behind the government’s efforts to tackle TB in cattle, including the cull of badgers, amid claims of intimidation.
The NFU has confirmed that no-one has pulled out of the trial area in Gloucestershire, where the first licence has been granted to shoot the protected wild animal.
Campaigners are angry over the Government's decision to push ahead with a cull of badgers, which they claim will not have a significant effect in reducing the disease in livestock, and want the focus to be shifted on to vaccination.
But supporters of the cull say the move is necessary to tackle TB in cattle because the wild animal spreads the disease to livestock, costing farmers and the taxpayer millions of pounds a year.
A long-term study found that culling over a number of years on a large scale could reduce the incidence of TB in cattle herds by 16 per cent.
Farmers will be licensed to shoot up to 70 per cent of the badgers in a 300 sq km area in Gloucestershire lying mainly within the council districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury. A second licence for a cull in Somerset is set to follow.
Ms Creagh told the fringe meeting: “I have certainly moved on this from last year when I was in frame of considering that we would have to continue with the cull.
“The more I have looked at the science, the less effective I think this cull is going to be. I am really worried about it.”
“I am worried about the risk to the farmer of making the problem worse. And the taxpayer is going to be picking up the bill – testing, compensation and police costs, armed police costs, over-time, overnight in the dark in the winter. This is not going to be achievable by anybody.
“It hasn’t started yet but at the moment I would be minded to stop it. I would have to see some pretty convincing results to get me to change my opinion but there will not be any data collected on it and there is no measurement to see whether it works. That science will not be there and I am pretty certain I will be proven right on this.”
But NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond defended the policy and pointed to the 34,000 cattle culled in England and Wales because of bovine TB last year.
He said: “The figure has doubled in the last 10 years. The disease is out of control. I have seen farm businesses absolutely destroyed because of bovine TB. We have got to give farming families in these areas some hope for the future.”
It came as NFU President Peter Kendall hit out at what he branded “the tactics of harassment and intimidation” by anti-cull activisits.
He said: “Farmers remain committed to helping government deliver on its TB eradication programme that will reduce TB in both cattle and badgers.
“No-one wants to cull badgers but we simply can’t go on while TB increases its vice-like grip on our family farms.”