Consultation on badger culls is among government plans to tackle an increase in tuberculosis in cattle in England.
Farmers warn of "desperate measures" if badgers are not culled
The consultation exercise will cover whether to cull badgers in areas hit badly by bovine TB, and how to do it.
Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw said TB was at "crisis levels" with 22,705 cattle slaughtered in 2004.
The Tories said consultation was not needed as a cull was "inevitable", but the Badger Trust said a cull could never be a "sane or viable" strategy.
Chairman David Williams said: "The results of the Krebs Trial show that badger culling can never be a part of a sane or viable bovine TB control strategy."
The badger culling trial, named after the scientist who instigated it - Professor John Krebs - suggested that, while there was a fall in the incidence of bovine TB within culling areas, there was an increase in the surrounding areas.
"Killing more badgers will only increase the ripple effect observed, in which badgers around the culling area acquire and spread infection further afield," Mr Williams added.
Conservative spokesman James Paice told the Commons a badger cull would have cross-party support and a delay for another consultation was "unnecessary".
Anthony Gibson, regional director of the National Farmers' Union in the South West - the worst-affected region - told the BBC's Today programme: "If there isn't badger culling, there is a very real risk of feelings running extremely high in the countryside."
The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered because of TB has increased from 599 in 1986 to 22,570 in 2004 - with the disease last year costing the taxpayer £90.5m (£35m of which was compensation paid to farmers).
The measures announced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in a written statement to MPs also include testing to reduce the spread of the disease through the movement of cattle.
This will apply to cattle over 15 months of age moving out of tested herds.
A new compensation scheme will also bring into line payments made to farmers for bovine TB and three other cattle diseases.
It follows reports showing "serious overpayments" under the current bovine TB compensation system, says Defra.
The announcement came after the publication on Wednesday of interim findings from the government's badger culling trial and a cost benefit analysis by Defra of a number of culling options.
In one option set out in the paper, the cull would cover virtually the whole of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, and large parts of Devon and Cornwall.
But any mass cull would be opposed by animal welfare groups.
Mr Bradshaw said research suggested that culling could help reduce levels of bovine TB.
However, there was still enough scientific uncertainty to make a consultation important, he added.
The consultation paper seeks views on three options that could be used should badger culling be introduced: individual licensing; a targeted cull in specific areas; and a general cull over larger areas of high TB incidence.
The government is also investigating the development of vaccines for cattle and badgers.
The Welsh Assembly Government, meanwhile, says it has "no immediate plans" to cull badgers as part of a package of measures to control bovine TB.