In this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (8 March) Editor Arnold Garvey speaks out about the government mishandling of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

“I am surprised that Minister for Agriculture Nick Brown has not received more stick for his mishandling of the foot-and-mouth crisis, which is rapidly turning into a catastrophe for farmers. Why was action not taken to close livestock markets and stop the transport of ALL animals on day one? Where was the strong, decisive leadership?

“Precious time was lost in the first week as the government dithered and it seems incredible to me that the very people who should have been getting directions from government actually had to take the initiative themselves. All hunting was stopped within two days of the virus being identified and the Countryside Alliance’s March was cancelled the following Monday.

“In the absence of any instructions from government to cease racing, the Jockey Club and British Horseracing Board called for a cessation, then decided to continue racing from Wednesday of this week, but have already received the thumbs down from rural tracks.

“Even when the government did ban livestock auctions and transporting livestock, it did not bother to ban the movement of horses. A total ban on everything from day one just might have made a difference, just might have bought valuable time.

“Now it looks as if the epidemic may get out of control and the equestrian world is still being left to make up the rules by itself.

“Well, the horse world should be congratulated on getting together to formulate a policy for horses, but there will be many who share the misgivings of the British Horse Society, which advocated a ban on all equestrian events and movements from the outset.

“When you look at the measures taken by the Belgians, French, Germans and Irish, Nick Brown and the Ministry of Agriculture look positively inept.

“Last Tuesday, when the House of Commons debated the Hunting with Dogs Bill, Nick Brown refusedto find time to debate foot-and-mouth disease.

“It just about sums up the government. It did not have the wit to leave hunting well alone, nor did it have the common sense to act firmly at the outset of a catastrophe which will inflict lasting damage on an already weakened industry.”