The Government have been urged to "get on top" of bovine TB as new figures show that the cost of slaughtering cattle that have tested positive for TB over the last five years stands at more than £160 million.
Figures from Defra show that in 2012/3 the compensation costs associated with slaughtering cattle in England believed to be affected by TB, rose to £34.1 million – the highest in the previous five years.
Total expenditure on compensation, haulage costs, slaughter costs and disposal costs in England over the last five years is £161.78 million.
It comes as controversy about two pilot culls due to get under way shortly in the South West continues, with protest groups urging the Government to abandon the trials and farming groups insisting that the action is necessary to reduce the spread of bovine TB.
If the trial culls are successful, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has already said that culls would be rolled out to ten other areas in 2014 but campaign groups, including celebrities such as Brian May, Dame Judi Dench and Joanna Lumley, remain vehemently opposed to the idea.
Compensation of £30.2 million was paid to farmers in 2011/12, with £28.6 million in 2010/11, £30.6 million in 2009/10 and £28.6 million in 2008/09.
Bill Harper, who farms on the Cornwall and Devon border and is the chairman of the National Beef Association's TB committee, said: "We're not at all surprised by the figures. The Government really do have to decide whether they are serious about reducing the disease or whether they are going to continue as they are, otherwise, what will happen is that they will need to be paying compensation for the next 25 years which is going to be a bigger problem every year.
"The danger then is that they will lash back at the industry and hit them with more costs."
Mr Harper said that he would be prepared to take legal action if the Government made any moves to reduce compensation levels to farmers. "We would argue that because the Government has failed to control the disease they have a liability and a responsibility to fully compensate for the animals," he said. "They (the Government) will argue that they are fully compensating but they are just compensating for the value of the animals and not the loss of future income which is not a proper reimbursement.
"There are so many obstacles being put in front of efforts to control the disease – we're in a very difficult position."
Andrew Butler, NFU Devon county adviser, said: "Over that time, not only have reactors gone up but also the price of beef and cattle. More cattle are being slaughtered because the disease is getting worse and worse and the cattle are worth more and more.
"These are only valuations and, unfortunately, there are farmers who will lose out quite significantly. The compensation for TB is only compensation for the animal it's not compensation for the breeding valuation of for the loss of milk in dairy cattle.
"Clearly TB costs the Government. The Government is looking to cut costs on its animal health budget and one way to do this is to get on top of TB by rolling out the culling programme. There would be substantial benefits to the farming industry and the Government."
As well as the cost of compensation to farmers for the animals that are killed, Defra has also paid £1.19 million in 2012/3 to cover slaughter and haulage costs. At the same time, the money raised by Defra from the sale of carcasses that are found to be free from TB has also increased from £3.6 million in 2008/9 to £10.2 million in 2012/3.