THE number of cattle slaughtered in Britain because of bovine tuberculosis (TB) fell last year, according to official figures.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said 32,620 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered last year due to TB compared to 37,734 in 2012.

The number of previously TB-free herds found to be infected last year also dropped slightly to 4,815 (4.5pc) from 5,135 (4.8pc) in 2012.

Ministers said the incidence rate had been at the unacceptably high level of above four per cent for a decade, and showed the need to do everything possible to tackle the disease in cattle.

But wildlife campaigners seized on the statistics as evidence that more stringent on-farm measures to tackle TB have worked, and attacked Government claims that culling badgers – which can spread the disease to cattle – was needed.

The Government has pushed forward with two controversial pilot culls of badgers, with plans to rollout the scheme more widely in England if it can be done effectively, safely and humanely. But a leaked review by independent experts assessing the pilot schemes was reported to have found that the number of badgers being killed in each area was much lower than the level needed to have a beneficial impact on TB outbreaks in herds.

Commenting on the new figures, farming minister George Eustice said: “Our efforts to control bovine TB have kept outbreaks steady over the last ten years, but we are still nowhere near an acceptable position.

Almost 90 cattle are being slaughtered each day due to bovine TB and we cannot allow that to continue.”

The disease was costing taxpayers millions each year and taking a terrible economic and emotional toll on farmers. But Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust and policy advisor to Care for the Wild, said TB in cattle had emerged out of poor farm bio-security, failures in disease testing, and lapses in cattle movement controls. It could not all be blamed on badgers.

In Wales, where the Government had decided against a cull, there had been a 33 per cent reduction in the number of cattle slaughtered through farming measures alone.

Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, said the disease remained a massive problem for beef and dairy farmers.

She said: “A drop in the figures is welcome but there are often fluctuations in long-term diseases like this.

Bovine TB continues to devastate farming family businesses and it is vital that action is taken on all fronts to control and eradicate it.

“Farmers are continuing to play their part in tackling the disease through strengthened cattle movement controls, stringent cattle testing, and by improving biosecurity on-farm. Vaccination of both cattle and badgers when it is available and practical also has a key role to play.

But unless the reservoir of disease in wildlife is tackled in areas where bTB is rife farmers will continue to fight a losing battle.”