Defending the food supply
If a disease outbreak occurs in today’s interconnected global economy, the stakes are higher than usual: Expect lost domestic and international sales, a damaged reputation, and even a hit to the U.S. economy from lost trade and employment. The desired outcome, of course, is to prevent disease outbreaks with strong biosecurity plans. Are today’s plans up to the challenge?
U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY) recently updated its “Infectious Disease Risk Management: Practical Biosecurity Resources for Commercial Poultry Producers” program, with the guidance of industry and academia members. The program was created to aid in developing more effective biosecurity practices, and it is designed to be used as a multi-purpose, reference, employee training and teaching tool. Revisions were made to the dead-bird disposal and pest-control management sections, and the resource section includes signs and forms for meetings and monitoring.
“Existing biosecurity programs at the farm and the processing plant provide a strong foundation for an effective food-defense program,” says Rafael Rivera, manager, food safety and production programs, USPOULTRY. “There is always room for improvement as we implement training tools that help both salaried and hourly employees understand their roles in protecting the food supply.”
The National Turkey Federation (NTF) and the American Meat Institute (AMI) released a video presentation last fall of a turkey farm and processing plant. The video, hosted by leading animal-welfare expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D., professor of animal science at Colorado State University, continues efforts to increase the transparency of meat and poultry processing, and show a humane, safe and efficient operation.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are six main steps to follow to prevent poultry disease:
- Keep your distance: Restrict access to your property and birds at all times, and fence off the clean and dirty areas from each other. In addition, farmers should only allow their bird caretakers to come in contact with the birds.
- Keep it clean: Don’t bring your germs into the birds’ area by wearing dirty shoes and clothes and by not washing your hands before entering. Also, keep the birds’ living conditions clean by providing clean food and water, removing manure and dead birds, and disinfecting their cages and any equipment that touches their droppings.
- Don’t bring disease home: Your car, tires, cages and equipment can transport germs from areas where other birds are present. Also, keep new birds separated from the flock for 30 days (because they may have a new disease), and never mix species or birds from different sources.
- Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor: In this case, fences make good neighbors. If you are borrowing equipment from another bird owner, disinfect it before introducing it to your birds. However, wooden pallets and cardboard egg cartons are never acceptable to share because their porous surface makes them impossible to adequately clean.
- Know the warning signs of infectious bird disease: Early detection is crucial to prevent the spread of disease, but can be hard to spot. Poultry owners should look for sudden death; diarrhea; decreased or loss of egg production or soft-shelled, misshapen eggs; sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge and coughing; lack of energy and appetite; swelling of tissues around the eyes and in the neck; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs; and depression, muscular tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, incoordination and complete paralysis.
- Report sick birds: Call your agricultural extension agent, local veterinarian, the state veterinarian, or USDA Veterinary Services office. The USDA will test sick birds for free and conduct a disease investigation, so processors can find out if they have any serious diseases in their flock.
The definition of biosecurity also has evolved since 9/11. Food defense and agro-terrorism have certainly received more attention, and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has published voluntary guidelines and food-defense plans for processors, says Rivera.
“Our members and their customers understand the importance of food-defense programs, and information concerning food-defense plans is beginning to appear as part of many food-safety audits,” says Rivera. “As noted above, biosecurity at the farm has taken on additional meaning as a way not only to prevent disease in animals, but also as a valuable part of a food-defense plan.”
It is expected that the poultry industry, working with the FDA and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), will continue evaluating its food-defense programs and develop new training programs.
“With more food products being imported, the government’s role in addressing food defense at the port will increase,” says Rivera. “Food defense will be considered as a process that needs to be handled from farm to fork just like what we do with food safety programs.”
Keeping calves healthy
Strict biosecurity plans are essential to beef cow-calf operations, as well. According to the Michigan State University Extension, here are steps that will minimize introducing new diseases to the farm:
- Develop biosecurity plans with the consultation and advice of a veterinarian
- Understand your farm’s greatest risks: Newborn calves, for one, are the most vulnerable to disease because they are born with few immunities.
- Isolate potentially infectious animals: Also, fostering new calves with cows that lost their own calf is discouraged as the new calf can introduce new germs.
- Traffic control: Pay attention to the flow of oncoming vehicles, animals and people, as new diseases can be introduced and spread quickly through the pens. Farmers should start tending to the healthiest and youngest animals first, and the sick animals last.
- Sanitation: Visitors and producers need to wear clean clothes and sanitized footwear before visiting livestock operations and sick pens. Also, the livestock trailers and barn environments should be kept clean with manure removal, fresh bedding in the barns and cleaned and disinfected equipment like feeders and waters.