The government has confirmed that badger culling trials will go ahead in two parts of the country next year as part of efforts to tackle the spread of TB among cows.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said the six-week trials would be evaluated by a panel of experts before a decision is made on whether to extend the culling more widely across England.
Up to ten licences would be granted to farmers and landowners each year to allow them to shoot the animals.
In a statement to the Commons on 14 December 2011, Ms Spelman told the Commons it was a difficult decision to take but that there was no alternative.
She said a vaccine for the disease would take too long to develop and it was difficult to administer to wild badgers which needed to be trapped first.
It is estimated the disease could cost cattle farmers up to £1bn pounds over the next ten years.
The two areas have not yet been selected but it is expected that the culling will lead to a reduction of 16% in bovine TB, she said.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said any decision on badger culling must answer four key questions: "Is it science led? is it cost-effective? Is it humane? And, crucially, will it work?"
She claimed Ms Spelman had "turned her back on scientific advice" because the trials "will depend on farmers hiring people to free-shoot badgers at night, a method that had never been scientifically assessed as a way of controlling bovine TB".
Ms Spelman maintained she had taken a science-led approach to the pilot.
Several MPs raised concerns that farmers taking part could be targeted by animal rights activists, but Ms Spelman promised to protect their anonymity.
Labour MP Paul Flynn opposed the trial which he described as a "cruel" and "unnecessary slaughter" of animals, and Green MP Caroline Lucas called it "counterproductive".
Labour former minister Ben Bradshaw said the advice he had received in government was that shooting badgers "would not achieve a level of mortality high enough to make any difference to the disease at all".
Liberal Democrat Andrew George sought assurances the culling policy would be carried out "in a way that ensures a proper and rigorous estimate of the badger population and a proper count of those badgers culled within the area and not outside the area".
Ms Spelman told him Natural England would would carry out a survey prior to the cull and monitor the percentage of badgers culled.