Caffè Nero has defended its decision to stop using milk from badger cull areas, saying it was forced to take the step after receiving “serious and credible” threats against its staff.

“In response to serious and credible threats against our team members, we decided that the welfare of our people and our customers came first and have taken a pragmatic decision on our milk sourcing policies,” the coffee chain said. “Any threats to our people or customers is totally unacceptable and we have asked the authorities for support and assistance against these threats of violence and disruption.”

The coffee chain stressed it was “not for or against” the culls, adding it was a matter for government. “We sell coffee.”

It also pointed out about 98% of the milk it used already came from outside cull areas.

Caffè Nero has faced criticism from farmers since its decision to ban milk from cull areas emerged in an article in the Mail on Sunday last weekend.

Earlier this week, NFU deputy president Minette Batters said she was “disappointed” with Nero’s actions.

Nero today said it had a long-standing relationship with farmers in the UK. “We will continue to be supportive of the NFU and are working with them to find a suitable outcome for all parties. However, as a first priority we must guarantee the safety of our people and customers.”

Responding to Nero’s claims that its staff had faced serious threats from protesters, the NFU said it remained in dialogue with Caffè Nero and its milk supplier, Medina Dairies.

“It is a shame that Caffè Nero felt it had to bow to this type pressure but it again highlights the kind of tactics being used by those who want to stop the cull. We will work with Caffè Nero to see that their sourcing policies support British farming.”

Caffè Nero has not said how it will ensure no milk from cull areas makes its way into its products. Medina was not immediately available for comment.

Government-sanctioned badger cull trials are being conducted in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire as part of a number of measures to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle. The trials are seen as vital by Defra and many farmers – as well as the NFU – but have been criticised as ineffective and cruel by opponents. Their efficacy has also been questioned by some scientists, including former UK government chief scientific adviser Lord Krebs.