Farm Biosecurity

The pressure on farmers is increasing due to the growing global demand for food, and more than ever before, issues of biosecurity are paramount to ensure adequate food production and secure a future of food security.

Farm Biosecurity

Farm Biosecurity. Image Credit: Eric Buermeyer/Shutterstock.com

Modern biosecurity and its implications for farmers.

With mounting efforts to improve food safety and security, natural biodiversity, and improving public health, an increasing number of measures are being implemented to reduce the risk of disease introduction and transmission from animal to human populations.

Such measures generally include elements of control, prevention, and eradication of diseases, and can be considered as an approach to biosecurity.  As such, biosecurity requires knowledge of farming practices, epidemiology, and human health. These factors are then integrated into strategic plans to identify risk factors, investigate diseases and undertake monitoring of potential outbreaks.

Therefore, biological security, or biosecurity, can be defined as the discipline to control, prevent, or eradicate biological diseases.  

Contemporary biosecurity encompasses a range of measures and disciplines, but is essential when addressing food production and agricultural practices as they represent the main source of contact between animal and human populations, whether that is within farms or in markets when the food is processed.

This has been proven particularly important since the outbreak of animal-borne diseases, and biosecurity has become a key component of international institutes when designing modern and future plans for global food security. However, although biosecurity represents a key component of food security, it is becoming increasingly clear that socioeconomic disparities and regional differences prove challenging to implementing effective plans. Indeed, expensive and cumbersome measures may limit biosecurity approaches, with farm-specific plans being frequently designed.

Common measures of biosecurity in farms.

Within farms, endemic and exotic contagious diseases may cause disease outbreaks in herds of livestock. Infectious agents may be transmitted between farms by various routes such as live animals, transport, people, aerosols, fomites, wildlife, and insect vectors. The frequency and contact patterns of these transmission routes are important determinants for the risk of disease introduction and thus also important for the epidemiological investigation of a disease outbreak.

In a 2021 study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, authors reviewed existing literature on farm biosecurity and grouped measures into five categories: hygienic measures, personal protective equipment, vaccination, routine farm activities, and other interventions (e.g. air ventilation).

The use of these measures appeared to have varying effectiveness, with large confidence intervals. Most of the studies' overall risk of bias was ‘medium risk’. However, more high‐quality evidence is required to determine the most effective from the human health perspective. Indeed, the study was only able to collect data from 14 studies, demonstrating the inadequacy of existing literature.

Nonetheless, toolsets have been developed from existing measures to help stakeholders integrate and maintain sufficient biosecurity measures in farms. In a study by Susanna Sternberg Lewerin et al., researchers created a tool for on-farm risk prioritization of common biosecurity measures as an aid to veterinarians, animal health organizations, and farmers in their strategies to improve on-farm biosecurity.

In their toolbox, the authors echoed previous findings on the varying effectiveness of measures. They demonstrated that the risk of introduction, as well as the effect of biosecurity measures, differed between farm types and disease transmission routes. Moreover, adapting contact patterns to mitigate a specific disease risk was as important as biosecurity measures for some farm types, but the largest effect was seen when combining biosecurity measures with more planned contact patterns.

Interestingly, the complexity of farms may be undermining the effectiveness of biosecurity measures, as regional, structural, and traditional practices may all affect the implementation of measures. This is of key importance when implementing measures.

Understanding the complexity of biosecurity in farms.

In a 2020 review by Ian Robertson on the role of veterinary epidemiology in farm biosecurity, the author summarizes measures to reduce disease frequency and the type of epidemiological factors that may affect strategy success. Indeed, biosecurity includes a range of measures that address the risk of introduction and transmission of animal-borne diseases, yet the success of measures can depend on key factors that require consideration.

Specifically, the author discusses the importance of biosecurity in maintaining disease-free herds across a variety of modeled diseases and the factors contributing to its persistence. A variety of models were developed using elements such as diseases type, transmission rate, farm type, and contact frequency as factors. Findings showed that the persistence for each disease across different farm types can be mostly explained by the differences in the number of contacts as well as the differences in the prevalence of the specific diseases

These two factors alone largely affected the outcome of the models, with disease prevalence being the most important, followed by the most frequent contact type. Such factors can be measured within farm-specific settings to predict the risk of introduction and contagion of diseases.

Emerging issues and opportunities from complexity in farm biosecurity.

Complexity in measures of biosecurity does not only originate from the environment and type of farm involved. Indeed, definitions of biosecurity typically include broad statements about how biosecurity risks on farms should be implemented. However, on-farm biosecurity practices are uneven and transfer differently between social groups, regions, and commodities.

These elements were further discussed by Damian Maye and Ray Chan in a 2020 review examining existing literature addressing on-farm biosecurity measures for animal health.

The study presented how socio-cultural approaches have the capacity to extend common behavioral approaches and contribute to the better formulation of biosecurity policy and on-farm practice. Specifically, approaches include strengthening elements of identity in healthy farming practices, knowledge transfer, and farmer networks, as well as the reformulation of biosecurity as localized care practices. The authors conclude by highlighting how the integration of social identity and networks can offer engaging and encouraging practices for farmers to manage and contain diseases on farms.

Such findings were further echoed by French researchers that delved into the case study of French duck farms following the 2016–2017 H5N8 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) epidemic, and the necessary biosecurity response.

Indeed, the 2019 study discussed how farmers may be reluctant to implement biosecurity practices due to external reasons (time, money) and internal reasons(socio‐psychological), and examined how sets of socio‐psychological factors affect the adoption of on‐farm biosecurity practices across 127 duck farms.

Results showed three groups of farmers with different socio‐psychological profiles: the first group was characterized by minimal knowledge, negative attitudes towards biosecurity, little social pressure, and a low level of conscientiousness. The second group was characterized by more extensive experience in poultry production, higher stress, and social pressure. The third group was characterized by less experience in poultry production, better knowledge and positive attitudes towards biosecurity, increased self‐confidence, and orientation towards action.

This truly shows the challenges facing biosecurity as well as the potential to improve existing measures as a better understanding of the factors involved in farmers' decision‐making could improve the efficiency of interventions aiming at improving and maintaining the level of on‐farm biosecurity.

In the future, ensuring food security may therefore increasingly rely upon biosecurity measures, which itself depend on factors such as awareness, social, and environmental factors, which require careful consideration to maintain sufficient food production for current and future generations.  

Sources:

  • Delpont, M., Racicot, M., Durivage, A., Fornili, L., Guerin, J., Vaillancourt, J., & Paul, M. C. (2020). Determinants of biosecurity practices in French duck farms after a H5N8 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza epidemic: The effect of farmer knowledge, attitudes and personality traits. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, 68(1), 51–61. doi:10.1111/tbed.13462
  • Lewerin, S. S., Österberg, J., Alenius, S., Elvander, M., Fellström, C., Tråvén, M., Wallgren, P., Waller, K. P., & Jacobson, M. (2015). Risk assessment as a tool for improving external biosecurity at farm level. BMC Veterinary Research, 11(1). doi:10.1186/s12917-015-0477-7
  • Maye, D., & Chan, K. W. R. (2020). On-farm biosecurity in livestock production: farmer behaviour, cultural identities, and practices of care. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, 4(5), 521–530. doi:10.1042/etls20200063
  • Robertson, I. D. (2020). Disease Control, Prevention, and On-Farm Biosecurity: The Role of Veterinary Epidemiology. Engineering, 6(1), 20–25. doi:10.1016/j.eng.2019.10.004
  • Youssef, D. M., Wieland, B., Knight, G. M., Lines, J., & Naylor, N. R. (2021). The effectiveness of biosecurity interventions in reducing the transmission of bacteria from livestock to humans at the farm level: A systematic literature review. Zoonoses and Public Health. Published. doi:10.1111/zph.12807

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 12, 2021

James Ducker

Written by

James Ducker

James completed his bachelor in Science studying Zoology at the University of Manchester, with his undergraduate work culminating in the study of the physiological impacts of ocean warming and hypoxia on catsharks. He then pursued a Masters in Research (MRes) in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth focusing on the urbanization of coastlines and its consequences for biodiversity.  

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