The NFU is set to launch its legal challenge against the government’s blanket ban on a badger cull as a means of controlling bovine tuberculosis.

“The policy is being challenged and the NFU is committed to applying for a judicial review,” NFU chief legal adviser Julie Robinson announced at an NFU Council meeting in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on 7 October. “It is a case of watch this space,” Ms Robinson said.

News of the case was first reported in Farmers Weekly on 11 July, when the NFU said that the case was likely to centre on the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. The act states that licences can be issued to cull badgers if certain criteria are met and that a licence must not be unreasonably refused.

“Because of that clause, it is difficult to see that [DEFRA secretary] Hilary Benn has grounds to continue the blanket ban on culling,” Ms Robinson said.

The launch of the case came just days after Mr Benn visited West Country farmers struggling with bovine tuberculosis in their herds.

The meeting was organised by the NFU and National Beef Association and took place on 2 October on farms in Torridge and West Devon districts.

Philip Allen, the NFU chairman for the Holsworthy area in Devon, and Bill Harper, chairman of the National Beef Association’s TB Committee, confronted Mr Benn with 1400 signed applications for licenses to cull badgers.

They also presented results of a mapping process showing the link between badger populations and incidences of TB infection in cattle across 75% of the area known to be stricken with the VLA9 strain of the disease.

After the meeting, an NBA spokeswoman said: “For the first time, Mr Benn acknowledged that DEFRA will have to put in place a TB eradication plan.”

“But, in spite of that recognition, Mr Benn inexplicably refuses to admit that DEFRA stands in contempt of the 1992 Badger Protection Act by continuing with a ban on badger culling.”

Mr Benn told Farmers Weekly: “I have seen the human cost is desperate. But the question I have to answer is what is effective in dealing with this.

“There’s no doubt badgers pass TB, but the question is how to control it.”

Mr Benn added that he would be watching events in Wales where the Welsh Assembly was pressing ahead with plans for a pilot badger cull.