OFA outlines importance of biosecurity as a shared responsibility

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By Mark Reusser, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture

As farmers, we know that it’s the finite details that make all the difference. This could be closing the latch on a gate, applying the parking brake, or checking your blind spot when making a lefthand turn. Biosecurity includes a collection of those details to maintain safety standards and protect livestock and crops from potentially devastating disease outbreaks. Biosecurity plays a critical role in the safe and sustainable production of food, fibre and fuel all around the world. A shared responsibility is required to protect the health and welfare of vulnerable populations and to avoid major economic loss.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) understands there is a shared responsibility among those across the agriculture industry, including farmers, input suppliers, farm maintenance representatives and animal welfare service providers, to implement and enforce biosecurity measures to achieve market stability in all sectors. Diseases and pests can have significant economic consequences, and have the potential to seriously damage livestock, poultry, and crop operations locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally. Biosecurity practices are essential to animal welfare, maintaining market access and preventing the occurrence of foreign animal disease in Canada. These practices demonstrate our commitment to animal health and food safety because as farmers, we work hard to supply a safe and sustainable food supply for all Canadians.

In terms of livestock, the poultry and pork sectors are most vulnerable to outbreaks. Commodity organizations in Ontario provide recommendations to their producers which include locking all entrances to barns, maintaining a daily log that records every visitor in the barn, having footwear and outerwear specific to being in the barn, and occasionally a shower-in shower-out policy. In addition, acknowledging biosecurity zones with proper signage can help instruct those who may not be familiar with the significance of biosecurity measures. Farmers must also understand that it is an obligation to report any new sickness in your barn to both the vet and commodity organization. This can act as a preventative measure to get the disease under immediate control and avoid the risk of wide circulation. Preventing wild birds or rodents from entering the barn is another important way to avoid introducing a new disease to livestock and poultry.

Biosecurity is always important, but it is especially vital when disease outbreaks are occurring provincially, nationally or internationally. When a disease outbreak occurs, it is important to react immediately. This may involve implementing practices that have commonly been used in the past or turning to new tactics as the situation evolves. In the case of Avian Influenza (AI), this is an evolving situation that all poultry farmers across Ontario have heightened awareness of. Several relevant groups are spearheading the communication to keep all producers aware of progression of this disease and ways to stop the spread. 

The traditional biosecurity measures mentioned above, continue to remain priority but extra precautions exist in this space. In partnership with commodity groups, the Feather Board Command Centre recently issued a memo referencing the 2022 planting season ahead. This memo issued a reminder to be conscious of the possibility of wild birds spreading AI through planting equipment out in the field. Be conscious of footwear used between the field and the barn, and parking equipment outside of biosecurity zones. Learn more by reading the full memo here.

On my farm, we’ve noticed the effects of such a disruption to the system. Extra biosecurity measures have been implemented as a result, which sometimes interfere with other processes. Feed trucks and livestock transport have to take different routes, increasing costs, and some processing plants have faced temporary shutdown, creating the inability to fulfill contracts in a timely fashion. Those impacted by this outbreak are experiencing anything ranging from minor inconveniences to devastating losses. It is important that we continue working together to mitigate risks from this disease and respond to this situation as best as possible.

If you’re in need of additional signage to address biosecurity zones, OFA can help. Farmers can visit our online store at store.ofa.on.ca to purchase biosecurity signs and have them shipped directly to their farm. We want to ensure the health and safety of all farm operations across Ontario is prioritized. Ultimately, increasing awareness and education of shared biosecurity responsibilities for both rural and urban populations can contribute to keeping our animals healthy and food systems secure. 

In situations of disease outbreak, the reality of the unknown can take a toll on our

mental wellness. Financial losses and the insecurity of losing livestock is difficult to face and can often be a troublesome burden to carry. If you or someone you know is struggling due to the current AI outbreak, please take advantage of the Farmer Wellness Initiative telehealth line by calling 1-866-267-6255 to speak to a professional today.

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