Biosecurity

The outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the United Kingdom attracted much media attention. Much animal suffering occurred, and millions of animals were destroyed. Economic difficulties were severe in the British agricultural communities, and the cost to that economy is now estimated at more than $10 billion. Avoiding a similar catastrophe in the U.S. has been and continues to be a priority for all those in animal agriculture. The heightened awareness of the importance of preventing infectious diseases from entering your herds and flocks has many people talking about and enacting biosecurity programs.

 

What is Biosecurity?

In the context of animal agriculture, biosecurity is the series of management steps taken to prevent the introduction of infectious agents into a herd or flock. Biosecurity usually involves screening and testing incoming animals, some sort of quarantine or isolation for newly purchased or returning animals, and then finally some type of monitoring or evaluation system. Once an infectious agent is in a herd or flock, a similar but slightly different set of management practices are employed to prevent the infectious agent from leaving the farm. In some publications this is also included as part of biosecurity, while in some cases you may see this referred to as biocontainment.

 

cow
turkey
USDA - Pigs

Why is Biosecurity Important?

Biosecurity is important for a great number of reasons. First, it is an essential aspect of on farm food safety programs. Keeping food products wholesome and of highest quality is important for the health and welfare of consumers. Secondly, animals are healthier and more productive. This benefits the farming community through greater efficiency and profitability. Finally, a vibrant agricultural community is a positive influence on the economy of our state and nation, and an important resource in maintaining a healthy environment. 

 

 

rice harvest
rice

Biosecurity Concerns for Row Crops

In Arkansas, commercial grain, oil and fiber production are extremely important in the eastern half of the state, the Arkansas River Valley and Southwestern Arkansas. Large row-crop farms are generally family owned and operated but may involve several family members with a limited hired labor force. They are highly mechanized and capable of immense production in a very short time. Because of needed efficiency, large-scale crop production is not very diverse and requires very few farmers to accomplish. In other words, only a few crops are grown on enormous acreage within a fairly small area and only a few varieties are grown within each crop. And most of our population relies on very few people to actually farm and produce the basis of the food supply.

This lack of diversity in crops and the reliance on such a small part of our population as producers increases the risk of economic sabotage through the purposeful introduction of exotic and destructive pests or by other means. However, Arkansas row crop production is more diverse than most places, growing rice, cotton, soybean, wheat, corn and grain sorghum on significant acreage. In the Midwest, often only corn and soybean occupy large areas. So the introduction, whether intentionally or by accident, of a new pest into our country poses a more significant threat than it might in other places. For example, a new disease or insect pest of rice could rapidly establish itself and damage large areas of the crop in Eastern Arkansas because all 1.5 million acres of rice in the state are near each other and our seed, production and grain handling systems are intertwined. While no one believes such an introduction would wipe out production, even a 10 or 20% loss in one year would have a substantial impact on not only the Arkansas economy but on the United States, since we grow more than 45% of the nation’s rice.

What are the threats to crop production

      • Accidental introduction of new pests or diseases.
      • Willful introduction of new pests or diseases.

Both of these threats are monitored, not only by APHIS, but also by the Extension Service in each state, and by agricultural field personnel and growers themselves. How so? Anything new and different attacking a crop in the U.S. is rapidly brought to the attention of County Extension Agents, Extension Specialists and University Researchers. These professionals understand how to put in motion a response and who to notify to quickly address such a development. 

      • Accidental contamination of crops or food products with chemical or biological agents.
      • Willful contamination of crops or food products with chemical or biological agents.

These threats have occurred on a limited basis in the U.S. and elsewhere but constant monitoring by the food/feed industry and FDA and rapid response by law enforcement and the medical profession has largely prevented widespread problems

        • Accidental destruction of crops with chemical agents.
        • Willful destruction of crops with chemical or biological agents.

Accidental injury or even destruction of fields sometimes occurs when a pesticide applicator sprays the wrong herbicide by mistake. Accidental pesticide applications of this nature are quickly noted and Extension personnel can alert the Arkansas State Plant Board if necessary. The purposeful use of herbicides to destroy crops is unknown in the U.S. and would certainly be recognized immediately.

Agroterrorism

Cattle at Concentrated Feeding Operation in Arkansas
Events have shown that the United States is not impervious to acts of terrorism intended to inflict death, injury, and destruction of assets within our borders. Current information indicates that, regardless of location, American infrastructures and citizens will continue to be targets of terrorist activities. Terrorists have demonstrated their willingness to employ asymmetrical warfare to achieve their goals. Agroterrorism represents one such class of nontraditional warfare. Chemical, biological, and radiological agents pose new challenges to law enforcement, food and agriculture regulatory agencies, and public health officials in their efforts to minimize the effects of a terrorist attack and apprehend those responsible for the attack.

In the past, law enforcement and food/agriculture regulatory agencies commonly conducted separate and independent investigations. An attack against the food or agriculture sector, however, requires a high level of cooperation between these disciplines to achieve their objectives of identifying the threat, preventing the spread of the disease or further contamination of a food product, preventing public panic, and apprehending those responsible. Lack of mutual awareness and understanding, as well as the absence of established communication procedures, could hinder the effectiveness of joint law enforcement investigations. Due to the continued likelihood of attacks against the U.S. food and agriculture sector, the effective use of all resources during an incident will be critical to ensure an efficient and appropriate response.

For More Information Contact:

Dr. F. Dustan Clark
Associate Center Director-Poultry Extension and Extension Veterinarian
POSC O-205 University of Arkansas Rm O-205
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Phone: 479-575-4375

Fax: 479-575-8775
fdclark@uark.edu

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