The new Environment Secretary has signalled the Government remains fully behind badger culling to tackle the "massive threat" posed to the South West countryside by tuberculosis in cows.
Liz Truss, who took charge of the rural affairs brief from Owen Paterson earlier this week, was accused by Labour of "flunking" her first test after she vowed to use "every tool in our toolbox" to eradicate the disease.
The Government has decided this year not to expand the cull of badgers, blamed for spreading bovine tuberculosis. But it will continue "pilot" culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire with a view to rolling out more if proved successful.
The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) found that shooting free-running badgers in the first year of the two schemes was ineffective, and failed to meet humaneness criteria.
Making her dispatch box debut in the post, Ms Truss rejected Labour's call for an independent scientific assessment of the second year of the cull, saying the Natural England quango would act as the watchdog.
Speaking in the Commons, Shadow Environment secretary Maria Eagle told MPs she was "appalled" to hear Ms Truss would continue with the "discredited, unscientific, inhumane and ineffective" badger cull.
Pushed by Ms Eagle to guarantee the IEP will report on the second year of the cull, Ms Truss replied: "Let's be absolutely clear, the reality is that bovine TB represents a massive threat to our dairy and beef industries, and we are looking at a potential of a loss of over £1 billion of economic growth in our country and we need to look at the best scientific evidence."
Ms Eagle told the Environment Secretary: "That's a disappointing reply – I'm afraid you've just flunked your first test and missed a golden opportunity to put scientific evidence back where it ought to be in Defra, at the very centre of the decision-making.
"Will you now undertake to ask the IEP to report, as it did on year one of the culls, on year two of the culls, yes or no?"
Ms Truss replied: "Let's be absolutely clear, we are asking Natural England – a proper expert body – to assess the way that the culls are going and to look at what we can do in the future. But I am absolutely clear that we must use every tool in our toolbox to address this threat to our beef and dairy industries."
Ms Truss said she has spoken with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' scientific adviser about culling, and the department is "progressing with our programme".
Anti-cull campaigners, who have high-profile supporters including musician Brian May, favour badger and cattle vaccines, and while the Government is investing money in both ministers argue they do nothing for infected cattle and are also fraught by inefficiency and EU agreement.
During the session, North Dorset Conservative MP Robert Walter said there was "disappointment and anger" among farmers in Dorset that the badger cull was not extended to the county this year, and asked for assurances Defra was "on-stream to roll out effective control of bovine TB" next year.
"Our view is that we should improve and get the methodology of the cull right in the two existing pilots before we roll out new ones," said Farming Minister George Eustice.