Defra has been slammed for being too cosy with the NFU, after using one of its hashtags in official communications about the badger cull.

The department has published an infographic featuring the Twitter hashtag #tbfree - used by the NFU as a positive alternative to the #badgercull tag typically used by those opposed to or critical of the cull - on its Tackling Bovine TB Tumblr site.

Defra’s policy is to support the trial cull, but critics have argued the department should have steered clear of material so closely linked to one side of the debate.

“This hashtag is very much associated with the NFU, so it’s hard to see where government policy stops and farming union campaign starts,” said Care for the Wild CEO Philip Mansbridge.

Labour shadow Defra minister Mary Creagh added: “The fiasco over the collapse of the cull last October shows the dangers when government outsources policy objectives to one powerful lobbying group.”

Defra did not comment on #tbfree but said it always referenced its sources on the Tackling Bovine TB site, and worked with “a variety of NGOs, charities and unions to deliver policy”.