By Jim Knisley
A key to better biosecurity might be to avoid using the word “bio-security,” according to J.P Vaillancourt of the University of Montreal.
Poultry farmers have heard so much about biosecurity in recent years that they tend to turn off at the mention of the word, he said. In general, they have also absorbed the message and they and their employees know what to do. They know the rules and protocols of biosecurity; the problem is that many just aren’t rigorous in applying them, he told the Poultry Industry Council’s Innovations Conference in Niagara Falls.
Vaillancourt said a team of researchers from the university decided to take a look at the most basic of biosecurity protocols – changing boots. They set up video cameras at 24 Quebec poultry farms and told people that they were on camera.
They found that 25 per cent of those entering a poultry barn failed to follow the basic protocol of changing their boots. When it was assumed there wasn’t a camera watching non-compliance rose to 55 per cent.
“This is far from good biosecurity compliance,” he said.
From interviews and questionnaires it had been determined that all of the employees knew the proper biosecurity protocols; they just failed to consistently adhere to them.
The adherence to biosecurity rules also deteriorated over time. When the cameras were first set up compliance was pretty good. But as time passed compliance fell dramatically.
“It’s not very encouraging,” he said.
Vaillancourt said the team found a host of other problems that included illegible writing in the sign-in logs, coveralls that are worn in summer but not winter, and visitors who signed in but were unknown to the farmer and employees.
Vaillancourt said that improving biosecurity will be a challenge but offered the following advice. One key element is to keep it simple, write down the rules and make sure that everyone receives training to understand them. Providing educational materials in the native language of employees is important. If the employee’s native language is Spanish or French providing English educational tools makes little sense.
Staff turnover is sometimes high and as a result the farmer or senior employees must be prepared to train and educate new employees in the necessity of biosecurity. The design of barn entrances should also be improved. A line on the floor isn’t good enough and a physical barrier should be in place to differentiate the biosecure area.
Anyone working in the barn should have boots that can be easily cleaned before they are disinfected. Trying to disinfect without cleaning doesn’t work.
A National Trend?
Vaillancourt said what the cameras revealed in Quebec is likely common across Canada. In the next stage of the study an industrial psychologist will be brought in to try and determine why people aren’t doing what they know they should do and how compliance can be improved.
Vaillancourt also said that vaccination crews and others who come on farms and fail to change boots and coveralls have been connected to infection and disease.
He pointed out that the best way to deal with disease is to prevent it. While the poultry industry and government agencies have come a long way in recent years in setting up procedures to control a disease outbreak once one occurs, that isn’t good enough.
“If we get hit by a serious disease, it will go beyond our capacity to deal with it,” he said.
The disease challenge is increased because new diseases are appearing and old ones are re-emerging every year.
Stopping the Spread
Jan Sargeant, director of the centre for public health at the University of Guelph, also emphasized the importance of biosecurity and stopping disease before it spreads.
The recent H1N1 flu pandemic didn’t directly involve the poultry sector, but provides an example of how fast and far disease can travel. H1N1 began near the Mexico-U.S. border. The first reported case seems to have been in California; then it was found in Mexico. Subsequently, it was found in people from Nova Scotia who had been in Mexico. Within six weeks of being detected, H1N1 had been found in nine countries, including England, Spain, Egypt and New Zealand. In less than a week it was in nine more countries and within two months it was in 168 countries. Soon after it was being found virtually everywhere and had infected at least two billion people.
As bad as this was “it could have been an awful lot worse,” she said.
H1N1 spread rapidly from person to person, but had a low rate of mortality. H5N1 on the other hand has a very high rate of mortality – about 60 per cent – but doesn’t spread easily among humans.
If influenza were to emerge that combines the characteristics of H1N1 and H5N1 it would be “very serious,” she said.
It’s also important to recognize that “biosecurity is not just about sick people or sick birds,” she added.
People with a flu virus will start shedding and spreading the virus days before they feel sick. “You don’t have to be sick to infect others.” And this doesn’t just apply to people. “Animals can make you sick, you can make animals sick.”
Water Sanitation Important
Dr Helen Wojcinski of Hybrid Turkeys said one of the most important and necessary things producers can do to keep their birds healthy and productive is to ensure a supply of clean, sanitized water. “Improving water sanitation is proven one of the best investments a grower can make,” she said.
“What do you want to do: Spend a little on sanitizer or a lot on meds?” she asked.
Farmers must also do everything they can on pest control and other elements of biosecurity, including carrying out audits. “Don’t let a disease audit your biosecurity for you.”
Cleaning and disinfecting must go together. If a barn and its equipment aren’t thoroughly cleaned, disinfecting won’t work. And there are some things that can’t be properly cleaned and disinfected – feed bins, for example – unless they are taken apart. When you take them apart you will find a buildup you didn’t know was there. It’s the old rule “if you don’t look, you won’t find it.”
A key to ensuring that good biosecurity is in place on the farm is to establish procedures and even barn designs that “make it difficult to make a mistake,” she said.