Recent animal health problems in Asia and elsewhere keep pointing to the need to reconsider our defense against emerging animal diseases. In the last decade, biosecurity has often been talked about in agriculture, but practiced haphazardly. Animal biosecurity covers a variety of management strategies aimed at preventing viruses, pathogenic bacteria, parasites and toxins from coming in contact with livestock. Done right, producers practicing biosecurity are using an all hazards approach, meaning their efforts help reduce the risk of a number of potential risks, including security risks.
In reality, animal health issues impacted by biosecurity are very important. For example, consider the impact of hairy heel warts on the dairy industry. Hairy heel warts are infectious foot lesions that cause lameness in cattle. The infectious agent that causes heel warts is transferred from farm to farm by the movement of infected animals or equipment and people in contact with an infected farm. Preventing the spread of heel warts is a matter of biosecurity. The 1996 NAHMS dairy study suggested that more than 17% of the dairy cattle in the U.S. were infected with heel warts. At the same time, it has been estimated that each case of heel warts costs $88 to treat and each lame animal loses 2.4 pounds of milk production for each day of lameness. Do the math and it becomes apparent that there are millions of dollars lost annually because of inadequate biosecurity practices. How would things have turned out differently if we had been using more stringent biosecurity practices since the 1970’s when heel warts first emerged in the U.S.? While the fight against heel warts goes on, the next emerging disease in the U.S. may cost even more in the long run if we cannot bring biosecurity issues under control. Developing biosecurity habits to reduce the risk from many animal disease problems are habits worth creating.
Good biosecurity programs focus on a number of management controls for visitors to the farm representing a major biosecurity risk for all livestock operations. The difficulty with addressing potential risks from visitors is that biosecurity tends to be subject to personal interpretation by both farm visitors and farm management. In the end, human nature usually wins out, and in most cases each party tacitly decides that unless one side or the other makes a point of it, everyone can agree biosecurity wasn’t that important that day. It is as important for farm owners to expect visitors to the farm to abide by the biosecurity protocols put in place by the farm, as it is for farm visitors to plan for biosecurity protocols on every farm they may visit. Expectations for visitors can be tactfully and specifically spelled out in a visitor policy