Why is biosecurity important in agriculture?

The events of the coronavirus pandemic have proven just how important biosecurity is on a global scale. While perhaps an extreme example, the pandemic ought to now inform how we manage biosecurity on smaller levels across society.

One such area of focus is agriculture, where large groups of animals and crops can be wiped out if biosecurity is not properly managed. The Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK two decades ago is a prime example of this.

What is biosecurity?

Biosecurity can be simply defined as preventing ‘agents’ – viruses, bacteria or similar – from moving to different places and potentially infecting larger numbers of animals or crops.

If not checked properly, these agents can end up in food and water supplies, posing a risk to human and animal safety, as well as spreading rapidly through crop fields.

What can farmers do to be more biosecure?

Among others, the UK government advises the following methods for maintaining high standards of biosecurity.

  • Where possible, limit and control farm visitors – people and vehicles
  • Keep farm access routes, parking areas, yards, feeding and storage areas clean and tidy, with regular use of pressure washers and disinfectant
  • Don’t allow contact with neighbours’ livestock and maintain your fences
  • Clean and then disinfect any farm machinery/equipment if you are sharing these with a neighbouring farm
  • Fence off streams and rivers – supply clean fresh drinking water in troughs
  • Keep livestock away from freshly spread slurry
  • Ensure your livestock identification and record-keeping is accurate and up to date
  • Make a herd/flock health plan with your vet, including isolation for new or returning stock
  • Be vigilant to spot any signs of disease among your animals or birds, and report suspicions of notifiable disease to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) as soon as possible
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Breakouts of illness in livestock can be highly unpredictable. Therefore, it’s vital to take out comprehensive farming insurance in order to protect your operations if the worst were to happen.

Why is biosecurity important?

Practising good biosecurity helps limit the spread of diseases and keeps farms’ businesses moving along.

The practice is also important as many diseases in livestock might not be immediately obvious.

If an animal dies suddenly, it is important that they are properly assessed by a veterinarian for any signs of disease that could become prevalent across a wider selection of animals.

There are several illnesses in livestock that are zoonotic – this means that it is possible for the pathogen to be passed from animals to humans. Covid-19 is, of course, thought to be such a case, although it is yet to be confirmed whether the original source of the disease’s outbreak was transmitted from animals to humans.

Regardless of its origin, Covid-19 is a prime example of the importance of biosecurity on a macro scale.

Just as a slow global response to shut off international travel helped the virus spread across the world much faster, agricultural diseases will spread unless infected animals are kept away from other areas of the farm.

In many cases, it may even be necessary to cull affected livestock, in order to protect greater numbers.

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