Promoting biosecurity planning with producers
This information is intended as a how-to guide for veterinarians to promote their biosecurity planning services to producers.
What is biosecurity?
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations defines biosecurity as 'the implementation of measures that reduce the risk of the introduction and spread of disease agents'. While not strictly included in this definition, for the purposes of this paper, biosecurity will also cover chemical contaminants.
Biosecurity requires the adoption of a set of attitudes, behaviours and systems by people to protect animal industries, public health and the environment. To be effective, it must become part of routine farm practice, be easy to comply with and hard to avoid.
Why have a biosecurity risk management plan?
Biosecurity is everyone's business as pests and disease can have a long-term impact on the profitability of primary industries, our unique biodiversity and our way of life.
Most significantly, emergency animal disease incidents can have catastrophic effects on the profitability and livelihood of producers and the community. However, endemic disease can also have detrimental effects on producers' profitability. Effective on-farm biosecurity risk management planning will help to reduce the likelihood and consequence of disease incidents.
Improved profitability through disease reduction or elimination is the critical element that underpins development and adoption of biosecurity plans. Marketing the concept of wellbeing and prosperity to primary producers by veterinarians and animal health authorities is crucial to uptake and implementation of biosecurity plans.
Implemented effective biosecurity plans should lead to increased efficiency of production. Reduced risk of disease introduction and less disease within the herd or flock leads to less reliance on animal therapeutics and improved animal welfare, which, in turn, translates into increased profit. Furthermore, less disease will lead to a reduction in the risk of possible zoonotic disease transmission to workers and consumers.
Less disease or absence of specific diseases may also attract a market premium, enhancing sales of animals and animal products. Healthier food animals may attract a preferred supplier status to restaurants, supermarket chains and other food suppliers.
Contract growers who implement risk-based biosecurity plans may also be given a preferred status, given they have the plans in place to prevent the introduction or limit the spread of disease thereby giving public suppliers added assurance of supply of a consistent quality product.
Producers wanting to expand production may be given favourable consideration by lending institutions because of their consideration of disease risk and risk treatments. If there is less risk of financial losses from disease impacts, a financial lender may be more inclined to lend money.
Producers with auditable biosecurity plans may be advantaged during emergency disease outbreaks. Producers that can demonstrate the effectiveness of their plans will help to limit disease spread, contributing to rapid and reduced cost community recovery.
Producers that can see the advantages of biosecurity planning and have the funds available or valuable assets worth protecting will be amenable to development of an enterprise specific biosecurity risk management plan.
Producers with insufficient financial resources or with assets that are not sufficiently valuable to warrant protecting are unlikely to have the means or the desire to develop and implement biosecurity plans in collaboration with their veterinarian. These producers may opt to develop a biosecurity plan on their own, or may opt out all together.
The practical design of biosecurity plans should be underpinned by four key considerations:
- In most cases, the emphasis should be on preventive biosecurity to decrease the risk of introduction (bio-exclusion), although limiting spread (bio-containment) must also be considered.
- Those who will implement the control measures must be involved in the design to ensure that the plan is practical (including being able to readily integrate with existing farm practices), logical, feasible, cost effective and therefore, sustainable.
- Many producers practice biosecurity every day, sometimes without knowing it. Integrating existing practices into the biosecurity plan assists in the uptake and long-term sustainability of the plan. Erecting fences for feral animal exclusion, vaccinating stock for production and emergency animal diseases and cleaning and maintaining equipment to prevent it from rusting are a few management practices that assist with biosecurity.
- Appropriate analysis of specific factors:
- socio-economic analysis
- a socio-economic analysis helps identify social and cultural acceptability of proposed biosecurity measures
- cost-effectiveness analysis
- a cost-effectiveness analysis defines an acceptable level of risk or biosecurity and deciding the most cost effective way of achieving it
- cost-benefit analysis
- a cost-benefit analysis compares the profitability benefits from applying biosecurity measures with costs of implementation
- livelihoods analysis
- a livelihoods analysis is useful for understanding the importance of animals and motivations of people through exploring the ways in which animals contribute to physical assets, earnings, social networks, human health and the natural environment
- State/territory laws and regulations
- incentives and penalties that may be appropriate to induce people's behaviour change.
- Biosecurity planning is most effective using a risk management approach where emphasis is placed on the key disease risks to be controlled; i.e. the controls must be proportionate to the risk. Working through examples applicable to the producer will allow them to understand the key elements of
biosecurity risk management:
- communication and consultation
- establish the context
- identify the risks
- analyse the risks
- evaluate the risks
- treat the risks
- monitor and review the risks.
Communication and consultation
Though there are many commonalities across farming enterprises, each enterprise should be evaluated on its own merit to determine the most appropriate customised plan. Industry biosecurity plans can be used to apply underpinning principles of biosecurity, but ultimately the plan needs to be developed for the enterprise of concern.
Effectively determining the scope of the biosecurity plan must be done in consultation with the producer. It is important that those responsible for implementing the plan understand the basis on which decisions are made and why particular risk treatments are required. The producer may make judgements about risk, based on perceptions which, may vary due to values (including livelihoods analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis and cost-benefit analysis), needs (real or perceived) or concerns.
Consulting with farm workers assists in defining the context appropriately, ensures risks are identified, brings together different areas of expertise and ensures appropriate consideration of evaluating and treating risks. It gives them ownership of the process and the plan. Communication and consultation must be ongoing throughout the entire risk management process.
Establish the context
Establishing the context defines the basic parameters within which biosecurity risks must be managed and sets the scope for the rest of the risk management process.
Establishing the external context is important to ensure that relevant external stakeholders and objectives are considered in the biosecurity risk management planning process. This may include political involvement/interest, membership groups and stakeholders (e.g. associations and industry biosecurity requirements) and key business drivers such as legislative or industry requirements.
Establishing the internal context ensures the risk management takes place in the context of goals and objectives of the producer. This involves understanding the producer's:
- outcomes of the livelihood analysis
- internal stakeholders (e.g. partners)
- on-farm capabilities
- goals and objectives.
The goals and objectives of the biosecurity plan need to be clearly defined with consideration given to balancing costs, benefits and opportunities. The time period over which the biosecurity plan will be developed, who will develop it and how the plan will be implemented all need to be clearly defined. Resources required for development and implementation of the plan together with defining specific inclusions and exclusions to the plan need to be documented.
Lastly, the criteria against which the biosecurity risk is to be evaluated must be defined. Decisions concerning whether a risk treatment is required will consider operational, technical, financial, legal, social and environmental criteria.
Identify the risksThis step is frequently thought of as the first step in the risk management process but should be preceded by establishing the context and run in parallel with effective communications and consultation.
When thinking about biosecurity hazards, namely pathogens and chemical contaminants, bio-exclusion must be the primary objective. However, when bio-exclusion is impractical, appropriate control methods to limit spread and impact must be undertaken.
Identifying the biosecurity hazards and the risks of significance frequently involves consulting a wide range of references such as colleagues, text books, previously developed biosecurity plans (including industry biosecurity plans) and online resources.
With respect to common biosecurity hazards, there are six categories of pathogen to choose from: viruses, bacteria, parasites, protozoa, fungi and prions. However, other biosecurity hazard categories that should be considered include toxins, nutritional deficiencies, genetic faults and chemical residue/resistance. The risk is the entry or establishment of the hazards into the herd or flock.
Analyse the risks
Analysing and understanding the risks provides an input to decisions on whether risks need to be treated and the most appropriate and cost-effective risk treatment strategies. The magnitude of the consequences of the event, should it occur, and the likelihood and its associated consequences are analysed and assessed in the context of the effectiveness of the existing strategies and controls. When consequence and likelihood are considered together, a level of risk is determined.
For some diseases, consequences and likelihood may be well understood and documented using past history or forecasting models. However, where no reliable or relevant past data is available, subjective estimates may be made which will call upon the producer's understanding or perception of the likelihood or consequence.
The analysis involves considering the sources of risk, the consequences of the risk becoming reality and the likelihood that those consequences may occur. Factors that affect the consequences and likelihood may be identified.
Where available, the most pertinent information sources and techniques should be used to analyse consequence and likelihood. Some information sources may include:
- past enterprise records
- current practice and relevant experience
- relevant published literature or reputable online research
- market research
- economic models
- specialist and expert judgements.
In estimating the likelihood of the event happening to or in the herd or flock, consider:
- likely sources (or reservoirs) of the risk (e.g. pathogens, toxins etc.)
- the expected pathogen 'load' at the sources
- the likely entry pathways to the farm from the sources
- the frequency with which the entry pathways are used
- the susceptibility of the herd or flock.
Likelihoods for entry of a pathogen can be scored as follows:
- rare - the event may occur only in exceptional circumstances
- unlikely - the event may occur at some time
- moderate - the event should occur at some time
- likely - the event will probably occur in most circumstances
- almost certain - the event is expected to occur in most circumstances.
(Sometimes likelihood is expressed as a function of time e.g. it may be scored as 'likely' if the event were to occur weekly.)
The next step is to estimate the consequence of the event on the herd or flock. Consider the financial impact the risk would impact on the herd, flock or business by reducing growth, reducing reproductive rates, increasing morbidity and mortality and decreasing milk or wool production etc. Consider the impact on market access, management costs, social amenity, livelihood or human health. Consequences can be scored in the context of profit as follows:
- insignificant - negligible impact on profits
- minor - adverse effect on profits for one month
- moderate - no profit for three months
- major - no profit for six months
- catastrophic - no profit for 12 months.
Any assumptions made in the analysis should be clearly stated so as to ensure transparency in the decision-making process.
Once this information is collected, the data can be analysed through a qualitative, semi-quantitative or quantitative analysis.
Evaluate the risksIt is at this step that a decision is made about which risks to treat and what the treatment priorities will be. It is important to evaluate the risks in light of the risk criteria (e.g. financial, legal etc.), cost-benefit analysis and livelihood analysis.
Decisions should take account of the wider context of the risk and include consideration of the risk tolerance borne by other stakeholders, including the community and industry organisations.
Risks may be divided into three bands:
- an intolerable band where risk reduction measures are essential whatever the cost
- a tolerable band where costs and benefits are considered and opportunities are balanced with potential adverse consequences
- a lower band where no risk treatment measures are needed.
The decision is frequently a matter of judgement by the producer who would be now well informed of the consequences. Placing the biosecurity risk identified in these three bands will clearly help to define risk treatment priorities.
Treat the risks - consider the options
It is important to remember that preventive biosecurity measures must be proportionate and practical if they are to be adopted and sustainable. They must be tailored to what is needed and possible rather than what is perfect as it is better to achieve a partial risk reduction rather than to attempt something so complex that it is not applied correctly therefore having little or no effect.
Referring to the three bands described above, intolerable, or unacceptable pathogen risks, can be treated in three ways:
- avoid the risk by removing it (e.g. switching suppliers)
- transferring the risk (e.g. take out insurance or selling the risky part of the business)
- mitigate the risk (e.g. take actions to lessen the probability of occurrence or the impact should it occur).
Frequently, the first two options are not included in the farm biosecurity plan; however, they may need to be considered in review of the plan and for future action should the risk evaluation or risk management context change.
For each biosecurity risk, it is important to list the different routes of entry (people, animals, things (inorganic, organic)). Then for each route of entry, consider the three stages of entry: pre-entry, point of entry, and post entry. Then, for each stage of entry, consider the control measures that will be effective in mitigating the biosecurity risk. Frequently a single risk treatment may reduce the likelihood or consequence of multiple risks, thereby enhancing its cost effectiveness.
Determining which control measures will successfully control the risk at pre-entry, point-of-entry and post-entry points includes:
- physical (e.g. fences) and procedural barriers (point-of-entry and post-entry)
- increased resistance of the herd or flock to diseases by vaccination, good nutrition, parasite control, improved genetics etc. (post-entry)
- carefully choosing animals, feed, transporters etc. from suppliers having good hygiene and biosecurity, and avoiding cross contamination en-route such as co-mingling of introduced stock with other animals on trucks and in sale or resting yards (pre-entry)
- using time and exposure to the elements to reduce pathogen load and increasing distance from neighbouring farms (pre-entry, point-of-entry and post-entry)
- preventing or reducing the build-up of the existing pathogen load on the farm (by implementing appropriate hygiene, sanitation, all-in all-out systems and drainage) (point-of-entry and post-entry)
- using surveillance and monitoring systems to quickly detect biosecurity breaches (post-entry).
It is important to remember that:
- enterprises with low biosecurity can substantially increase biosecurity for little cost, whereas, enterprises with high biosecurity can usually only increase biosecurity further at high cost
- efficacy of controls may be low when acting alone, but may be very high when acting in combination with other controls of low efficacy
- biosecurity risk treatments frequently control multiple risks
- biosecurity controls are often multipurpose, providing other value to the farm (e.g. wash-down facilities, fences)
- the costs of facilities and equipment used to control biosecurity risks can usually be defrayed or depreciated over a number of years
- many risk controls cost very little (e.g. compliance with procedures such as traffic flow).
There are some extra costs in developing and implementing an effective biosecurity plan that should not be overlooked. These include the development of systems for early detection of pathogens should they enter the farm. These systems may include monitoring farm production records, investigating disease events and routinely sampling animals and the environment.
There may also be costs of administrating and auditing biosecurity, particularly if participating in quality assurance programs.
Document the biosecurity plan
Once the list of risk treatments is compiled, continue working with the producer to determine which solutions are appropriate for implementation.
Cross reference the available risk treatments with the following attributes to determine their application and feasibility:
- set-up cost
- recurrent cost
- cost efficiencies (i.e. can the costs be shared across other purposes or can cost be defrayed or depreciated over time?)
- disruption to the production system
- legal requirements
- incentives and penalties
- social and cultural acceptability
- livelihoods analysis
- source of finance, effort and ongoing support
- the farmer's skills knowledge, experience and confidence to implement the controls.
Once decided, the biosecurity plan can be documented.
Keep the plan as simple as possible but document the process by which it has been developed so the process is transparent and easily reviewed. A well-documented plan will contain the following elements:
- an introduction identifying the authors, contributors and stakeholders
- a brief statement outlining the context and the scope of the document
- a description of the farm enterprise, including: human and physical resources available; a financial description of the value of the asset being protected; the farm income; and costs of production. Maps and valuations may add to the description
- the key biosecurity risks facing the property, ranked in order of importance
- a description of the routine controls for each identified risk and how they can be implemented, by who, when, where and how often they should be monitored
- a description of the enhanced risk treatments
- the attributes of each risk treatment considered
- the rationale for selecting and implementing the risk treatments.
The document can be supported by:
- maps, diagrams and photographs
- checklists and forms suitable for use by the owner, farm staff and auditors to record and monitor actions required in the plan
- defined standard operating procedures describing how complex, risky or business critical tasks must be performed
- a description of actions to take upon detection of a breakdown in biosecurity, that may be recognised by increased disease incidence or unusual clinical signs
- appropriate records that must be kept to assist auditing and investigation of biosecurity breakdowns.
Schedules and records should also be developed and kept for:
- biosecurity monitoring which may include collection of routine samples
- reviewing the plan
- auditing of biosecurity
- pest control
- staff training.
Once implemented, records should be kept to indicate the plan is in place and being used. Critical records include:
- movements of people, animals and things off of and onto the farm, including retention of delivery dockets, vaccine purchases and use etc.
- factors that affect production such as changed management/husbandry, weather, feed and water sources etc.
- production parameters such as growth, reproduction rates, morbidity, mortality, wool yield etc., which can help quantify the successfulness of the biosecurity plan.
Providing ongoing biosecurity advisory services
Veterinarians have a key role in providing technical and scientific support during development of the biosecurity plan. However, veterinarians can also provide additional biosecurity services. These include:
- reviewing the plan, making modifications as appropriate to ensure risks are routinely evaluated with development and implementation of appropriate risk treatments. This is part of the ongoing risk management process
- training staff in appropriate biosecurity practices, facilitating their ownership of the plan and commitment to its implementation and farm profitability
- providing expert advice regarding current or emerging risks and what actions can be taken to reduce those risks
- investigating biosecurity breaches (frequently recognised as disease incidents) and deciding appropriate controls to implement
- monitoring routinely pathogens within the herd or flock targeting most susceptible animals
- advising on the application of diagnostic tests, treatments and prophylactic medicines, chemicals and vaccines.
Promoting biosecurity services
Some producers will be more receptive to biosecurity planning than others. Receptive producers are likely to be those that have suffered costly losses from disease, those who know others that have suffered costly losses, those that understand business risk and those that can see the financial advantages.
The following strategies will assist veterinarians in promoting their services in biosecurity risk management planning:
- talk with groups of farmers, industry groups and industry liaison officers to sell the concept
- convince groups of farmers of the benefits of biosecurity risk management planning (see section 2)
- have farmers complete a biosecurity self assessment to evaluate their enterprise's biosecurity status
- promote biosecurity planning immediately after a significant disease outbreak, either within Australia or overseas
- describe and publish case studies in veterinary practice newsletters of losses suffered from inadequate biosecurity
- offer biosecurity risk management planning to producers that understand business risk and who are more likely to be receptive to risk management planning
- discuss with vaccine salespersons, stockfeed merchants and stock and station agents the promotion of veterinary biosecurity advisory services to clients
- promote biosecurity by using posters at veterinary practices, local stockfeed shops and stock and station agents.
- FAO. 2008. 'Biosecurity for highly pathogenic avian influenza: issues and options', Animal Production and Health Paper 165.
- Jubb, T. 2008. 'Biosecurity risk management planning for livestock enterprises - a training course for animal health advisors', Livestock Health Systems Australia, November 2008.
- Australian/New Zealand Standard. AS/NZS 4360:2004 - Risk Management.
- Animal Health Australia. 2007. Introduction to Animal Health Risk Management.