Biological Risk Management

Dr. Allen Young
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

Right now everyone is suffering from low milk prices. Dairy farmers are leaving the business or considering leaving. Adding one more consideration to a long list of problems will probably fall on deaf ears. However, if you stay in the business it will become as important for you to consider protecting your farm from biological risks (disease) management as it is to practice risk management in forward contracting commodities or buying insurance. It is just part of protecting yourself from unforeseen problems. The purpose of this article is to get you to start considering the possibility of a biological (disease) problem occurring on your farm or in your geographical area.

Think back to a little over 5 years ago. How many of you would have ever dreamed that you would live to see the day where you had to take off your shoes before you could get on an airline? Or have your finger nail clippers confiscated at the airport? I wouldn�t have dreamed it, but it happened. Biological risk management is the same idea. It has only happened to a limited extent here, but when it does happen the whole industry, as we know it, will change.

Biological risk management (BRM) is the overall process of awareness education regarding the risk of infectious diseases entering or spreading through an animal facility. It involves knowing and implementing practices that minimize the risk of diseases debilitating your dairy, even if it may not totally eliminate the problem.

Why is this important to you and the industry? There are several reasons. The first is that in general, agriculture accounts for a large portion of the jobs and economy of the U.S. If something happened that decreased the number of animals and/or product, it could affect the general U.S. economy similar to ripples on the surface of a lake and reach out until most segments were affected. The other aspect of BRM that makes it important is that agriculture has changed - bigger and fewer operations. With more animals confined into a small geographic location, the opportunity for a disease outbreak involving large numbers of animals increases. Another aspect is the increase in global travel and commerce. It is estimated that on any given day there are over 1.4 million people and over 38,000 animals that enter the United States. About 67% of these people are not U.S. citizens. How many of you have flown internationally, then come home and gone directly to the farm? How much did they check your paper work coming through customs to see if you had visited a farm somewhere and then did anything about it if you checked the �yes� box? In addition, there are 11.2 million trucks, 2.2 million railcars and 7,500 ships that make 51,000 calls in U.S. ports per year. Wild animals, soil on vehicles coming from other countries, airborne contamination, the possibilities of things that could carry an infectious agent are endless. The law of probability suggests that it is only a matter of time before a foreign disease is brought to the U.S. (Note: I am NOT anti-immigration or have any desire to put up fences around the U.S. That isn�t the intent of this article!).

So where do you begin? Start by increasing biosecurity on your dairy. While this is a big subject, and won�t be dealt with in detail this time, I�ll start with listing a few things to think about.

1. Consider how you might control access to your dairy. This runs counter to open-door policies that almost all of our dairies have. A good first step would be to start logging in all visitors to your dairy. Call it a guest book and ask for name and contact information. In the U.K. this helped several dairies keep from having their dairies liquidated when they had the FMD outbreak a few years ago because they could prove who had been to their farm and who had not.

2. Consider controlling physical access to your dairy by having as few entrances as possible (preferably 1). Post signs that indicate visitors are restricted and must sign in. On small dairies consider having a driveway warning bell to let you know that someone has entered your premises. Also think about monitoring the limited entrances by humans or remote cameras.

3. Consider fencing areas to keep out wild animals.

4. Watch your facilities and your neighbors for unusual activities and let someone know if you see something suspicious.

5. Keep a list of BRM first responders near your phone so that you can quickly contact them in an emergency.

Could a disease outbreak occur? Yes! Will it affect you? I don�t know, but probably. Should you prepare anyway? In answer to that question, I quote from a speaker at a training session I went to in Minneapolis last July, �the most vulnerable operation is the one where the owner thinks that this could never happen to him�. The time has come to start considering the possibilities and act on them.

Any comments or questions can be directed to Allen Young at (435) 797-3765 or alleny@ext.usu.edu. ©