Culling badgers is unlikely to be a cost-effective way of controlling cattle tuberculosis, scientists advising the government have concluded.
Farmers say the spread of cattle TB is destroying the industry
Farmers say the spread of cattle TB by badgers is destroying the industry and that culling would control it.
But independent government advisers said culling would have to be so extensive it would be uneconomical.
Conservationists suggest tighter restrictions on cattle movements could help control the disease's spread.
The government is currently considering whether to introduce a cull.
It set up the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) to examine the links between TB in cattle and the spread of badgers in the countryside.
ISG chairman Professor John Bourne told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today: "One has to recognise that what we are dealing with is primarily a disease of cattle, although badgers in hot spot areas do make a significant contribution."
The dilemma for farmers and ministers is that there was no sustainable way of treating the badger issue, he said.
"If they do embark on a badger culling policy, it is quite clear that will have no impact - direct impact or meaningful impact - on controlling the disease in cattle, and it could make it worse."
Instead, he proposed a method of cattle control which would reduce the incidents and prevent its geographical spread.
But National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said he would seek urgent meetings with ministers and officials to devise a culling strategy that would make a worthwhile difference to the disease situation.
THE KREBS TRIAL
30 areas of the country, each 100 square km
10 culled proactively, 10 reactively, 10 not culled
Badgers culled through being caught in cage and then shot
Incidence of bovine TB measured on farms inside and outside study areas
Reactive culling suspended in 2003 after significant rise in infection
Trial cost £7m per year
"I simply do not accept that the industry cannot devise a culling strategy that will reduce the reservoir of TB in badgers," he said.
He added that better testing and tighter controls on cattle movements would be worthless unless something was done to stop the "relentless cycle" of re-infection of cattle in the TB hot spot areas by disease spreading from badgers.
Trevor Lawson, from the conservation group, the Badger Trust, said that the problem lies with the way cattle are tested.
"It's been missing large numbers of infected cattle, and because we've had large herds and we move cattle around so much in this country, that's spread it countrywide."
A consultation mounted recently by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggested public opinion is firmly against a cull.
Past research has shown that culling is associated with increased TB in the badgers; areas which had received four culls saw a doubling of the rate.
It appears that badgers move more freely and more widely in culled areas thereby increasing contact with each other.
The data comes from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, sometimes known as the Krebs trial after Sir John Krebs, the government scientist who instigated it.