Source: Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Why are biosecurity standards important?
Producers can adopt or enhance biosecurity within their operation to help:
- improve the health of individual animals, which in turn improves the health of the national cattle herd
- lower the cost of cattle production on the family farm and throughout the industry
- limit the transmission of zoonotic diseases
- avoid the devastating impact and loss of international markets that would result from an outbreak of a reportable foreign animal disease, such as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)
- provide a means for standardizing health management practices across the country, as applicable
While reportable foreign animal disease outbreaks in Canadian cattle are rare, the impacts are readily apparent to beef cattle producers, as evidenced following the identification of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada.
Canada’s beef cattle industry relies upon trade and would be devastated if a highly contagious and infectious disease like FMD were to occur. The impact to the industry and the economy would result in multi-billion dollar losses.
What is biosecurity in the Canadian beef cattle industry?
The Canadian On-Farm Beef Cattle Biosecurity Standard is essentially a set of risk management practices. These practices are designed to assist producers in managing disease on all types of Canadian beef cattle operations.
For the purposes of this manual, we will use the following definitions for biosecurity, disease and production area. Additional terms are defined in the glossary in this manual.
Biosecurity (definition): those practices that prevent or mitigate disease from entering, spreading within, or being released from operations that may contain livestock.
There is no single definition for biosecurity and it is refined to meet the needs of different situations, applications, and organizations. This definition includes common themes from definitions prepared by different animal health groups from around the world, and is applicable to the livestock industry.
Disease (definition): a broadly applied term encompassing the introduction, transmission, spread and/or existence of a range of pests, pathogens and other disease-causing agents, including toxins.
This definition includes the agent, its effect on the animal (ill health) and its transmission, which are the risk events being managed. The definition chosen here allows us to address all forms of disease, although the emphasis throughout is contagious disease.
Production Area (definition): the operation’s corrals, pens, barns and pastures where livestock are or may be kept.
Who practices biosecurity and where does it occur?
Producers are not alone in practicing biosecurity; many organizations / government bodies are involved, with a broad range of responsibilities, including:
- internationally, the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH; founded as Office International des Épizooties(OIE)) sets animal health guidelines, for trade and other purposes
- at our border, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) enforces Canada’s requirements for animal health on incoming visitors, returning Canadians and inbound shipments
- nationally and provincially, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and provincial animal health services manage programs and conduct surveillance for a broad range of diseases, together with other activities designed to maintain Canada’s animal health status
- across the country and throughout the production system, veterinarians work to diagnose, manage and eradicate disease
- and industry associations work with producers and governments to enhance awareness
At the farm level, biosecurity practices are being identified and incorporated into Standards for many Canadian agri-commodities. The Canadian On-Farm Beef Cattle Biosecurity Standard sets out the practices for beef cattle producers.
What diseases are of concern to your animals?
Some diseases of beef cattle in Canada include:
- ‘Endemic’ diseases: these are already present in the industry and may occur on an ongoing basis. Producers may be familiar with many of these, and already have encountered them. Examples include:
- Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR)
- Bovine viral diarrhea (BVD)
- Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (Johne’s Disease)
- Neospora caninum (Neospora)
- ‘Reportable’ diseases: these are of significant importance to human or animal health, or to the Canadian economy. Not generally present in the industry, these have rarely if ever occurred in the Canadian industry and are sometimes referred to as ‘foreign animal diseases’ or ’emerging diseases’ in the case of the newer ones. Examples include:
- Bluetongue virus (Bluetongue)
- Mycobacterium bovis (Bovine Tuberculosis or bTB)
- Brucella abortus (Brucellosis)
- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)
- Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)
- Zoonoses: these are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. They may be endemic or reportable, and include diseases such as bTB, Brucellosis, Rabies, and Ringworm, all of which can be found in cattle.
Reportable diseases represent a significant threat to animal or human health, or the economy, and require control or eradication actions.
Producers and those caring for cattle must immediately notify the CFIA (see Schedule 7 for contact information) of the presence of a Reportable disease or any fact indicating its presence. Producers should also notify their veterinarian and the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian/Chief Veterinary Officer in their respective province.
Getting the right balance – cost and benefit
There are costs associated with biosecurity practices. Cash outlays for new equipment are relatively easy to measure. The additional time and effort to undertake new and different management practices are more difficult to measure, but are just as important.
Perhaps most difficult to measure are the direct benefits of adopting biosecurity practices. It is difficult to determine when disease threats to the herd are eliminated by good biosecurity practices if the health of the herd remains unchanged. It is only when animals become ill with a contagious disease that we know that biosecurity failed.
The results of implementing biosecurity can take time to become apparent and it is often difficult to attribute to a particular change in practices. For instance, what are the benefits of avoiding a disease outbreak?
- To an individual operation, for an endemic disease like IBR
- To a large region, for a reportable disease such as bTB
- Or to the Canadian livestock industry, for a disease like Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)
Given the realities of tangible costs and benefits that are difficult to measure, the information provided here is intended to clearly reduce the presence and spread of disease. Less disease means healthier, more productive animals, lower death loss and, in turn, greater income-generating capacity for the herd.
Achieving the right balance between the costs and benefits of new biosecurity practices will vary significantly between operations.
Most producers will need to make an intuitive or qualitative decision about adopting specific biosecurity practices on their operation: do the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived costs?
Good records can help in making an informed decision at the outset, before adopting certain biosecurity measures. They can also help in evaluating the merit of past decisions.
Biosecurity is simple things, done right, every day.