Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Why is biosecurity still a dirty word?

August 5, 2011

gate signLivestock producers need not fear implementing simple measures to protect their farms.

‘Prevention is better than cure’ has long been the mantra of the medical profession and most people would agree with the basic principle. It is generally accepted that it is more economical to prevent disease than to treat it long term and it is certainly less traumatic. Indeed multiple studies have investigated and supported this. Why then does the word ‘biosecurity’ cause such consternation in the agricultural sector? Especially when biosecurity measures can protect not only livestock health but human health as well.

The practices encompassed by the term ‘biosecurity’ are straightforward. Vaccination and drenching are standard practice for many livestock producers because they see both the immediate necessity and the long-term benefit of minimising the effects of pathogens and parasites. Similarly the application of basic hygiene will minimise transfer of pathogens from animal to animal and also to humans, thus reducing disease. ‘Biosecurity’ is a consolidation of these types of common sense practices, all aimed at minimising the risk of diseases, pests and parasites.

Surveys still indicate that many farm workers interact with animals with casual regard for their own health, or that of their livestock. Biosecurity seems to be a bit of a dirty word: ‘too time consuming’, ‘inconvenient’ or just a ‘plain waste of time’.

Why is this? If transferring diseases to other livestock and causing production losses is not an economically compelling reason, surely the recent Hendra virus cases provide compelling human health reasons to brush up on some simple biosecurity measures. And while Hendra virus in horses is the most recent and high profile example of the need for biosecurity, there are more diseases that have human health impacts than just this one. And there are certainly many more diseases that cause regular economic losses or have great potential to do so.

Foot and mouth disease is still considered the greatest disease risk for livestock industries in Australia and yet we know that people are one of the greatest risks for the spread of the disease, through their own movements and poor practices. The 2007 equine influenza outbreak should have taught us the role people can play in disease transmission. Biosecurity practices are usually strengthened in the event of an outbreak, but if these practices are not common place it is harder to  step up to ‘response’ standards.

Biosecurity needs to be practised in ‘peace time’, when there is no disease outbreak, so that basic risk minimisation becomes part of the daily routine. This gives us the best opportunity of preventing an outbreak in the first instance, and controlling an outbreak if it should occur.