The Labour Party’s pledge to halt pilot badger culls if it wins the general election could risk spreading bovine tuberculosis (BTB) further, The National Farmers Union has warned.

Speaking after shadow environment minister Maria Eagle promised to end the culls on Wednesday (18 February), NFU president Meurig Raymond said farmers did not “consider it good animal welfare to allow a disease that is devastating farming family businesses – and for which there is no cure – to be left to spread unchecked in wildlife and create more misery”.

Labour’s intention to stop the controversial culls was announced by Eagle as part of a manifesto paper entitled Labour Protecting Animals, which also pledged to reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates, “lead the fight against global animal cruelty”, and defend the ban on fox hunting.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said no other major political party had “such a proven track record of decisive action for animals at home, on farms and in the wild”, with Labour “the only party to trust on animal welfare”.

The announcement was welcomed by The Badger Trust’s CEO Dominic Dyer, who described the cull as a “massive failure on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds”.

But Raymond questioned the policy, warning that if Labour was pledging to protect animals, “It must protect all animals, including the tens of thousands of cattle that are compulsorily slaughtered every year in England because of bovine TB”.

Stopping the culls halfway through their trial period went against “the evidence from previous research which showed that culling over four years had a positive impact on reducing bovine TB in cattle”, he added, claiming that evidence from cull areas suggested they were helping reduce instances of the bacterium.

“We have repeatedly said that the fight against bovine TB is too important to be allowed to become a political football,” he said. “Eradicating this disease has to be put beyond party political point scoring and populist policies designed to win votes.”