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The Farming Minister gave up a herd of cows because she was worried they would infect a neighbour’s cattle with bovine TB, she revealed tonight.

Victoria Prentis told MPs how she made the decision over her long-horned animals because of the risk of spreading tuberculosis in cows.

Her comments came as she defended the Government’s controversial badger cull amid renewed calls for a halt to the killing programme.

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Outlining her personal experience, Mrs Prentis told a Westminster Hall debate: “For me, this is a very personal problem – my grandfather died from TB and I gave up my own cattle, long-horned cattle, about 10 years ago because of the prevalence of TB up our valley.

“I really did not want, as somebody who was keeping cattle for pleasure rather than serious business purposes, to infect next door’s very precious Jersey herd.

Mrs Prentis feared for a neighbouring farm’s Jersey herd ( Getty Images)

“This is a very dangerous disease in all species, be they human, bovine or badger.”

Some 174,517 badgers have been killed since 2013 under efforts to curb the spread of bTB.

A total of 33,687 badgers were culled last year through shooting and cage trapping.

Cull supporters blame the creatures for fuelling the spread of TB across the countryside – and 26,000 cows were slaughtered in England in the past 12 months because of the infection.

Tens of thousands of badgers have been slaughtered ( PA)

Mrs Prentis, who is MP for Banbury, Oxon, and grew up on her family’s farm in Aynho, Northants, on the edge of the Cherwell Valley, said: “We know, as I think we can all agree, that badgers are implicated in the spread.”

But she admitted “many people hate the idea of culling badgers”, adding: “Nobody wants to see a protected species culled for longer or for more than necessary”.

She insisted the cull had led to “a significant reduction in bTB in the areas where it has been carried out”.

Today’s debate was triggered after tens of thousands of people signed online petitions demanding an end to the scheme.

Former minister and wildlife campaigner Tracey Crouch branded badger culling “tragic and indiscriminate”.

Tracey Crouch led calls for the cull to be scrapped ( Parliament.tv)

But she admitted it was “utterly heartbreaking” for farmers when they learn of positive bTB tests among their cows, “virtually condemning their herd of cattle”.

She added: “The fight has become just as much about protecting badgers – an iconic species here in the UK – to ensuring that farmers are supported by the Government in implementing the wide array of counter-measures to prevent TB, helping to target transmissions within species.”

Ms Crouch called for a “diverse armoury” of vaccinations for cows, “herd health plans” and biosecurity measures to tackle bTB.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs hopes to have a jab for cows by 2025, and eradicate bTB by 2035.

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