A fence for cows on the American farm. Author: kavaram

Secure Beef Supply & Biosecurity Planning: The ticket for navigating the storm

Julia Herman, DVM, MS Beef Cattle Specialist Veterinarian, NCBA, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff & Justin Smith, DVM Kansas Animal Health Commissioner/State Veterinarian | August 17, 2022


cattle feedbunk

The U.S. cattle industry has been fortunate in being protected from foreign animal disease (FAD) outbreaks that are devastating to animal welfare, farming and ranching communities, and local or international economies. Currently, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is one such disease that the North American poultry industry is trying to contain. With a wild bird reservoir, this disease is challenging to track and has severe implications for flocks that become infected. Millions of birds have been depopulated already in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. and the disease will continue to cause damage in the months to come. HPAI has an added concern from being zoonotic, where it can spread from animals to humans. Biosecurity remains the top protection against this disease and many others.

Biosecurity involves taking necessary steps to prevent the transmission of pathogens to animals, humans, and the environment. This applies to an individual, farm, or any level of the food supply chain and relies on accountability at each of these levels. Implementing these practices protects animals and people from developing disease, improves animal welfare, reduces production loss, and provides a safe product to support a safe food supply. Transdisciplinary approaches are most effective when addressing biosecurity across livestock industries. Within the U.S. cattle industry, cattle producers work alongside professionals from all aspects of the industry from pasture to plate to implement best management practices based in science and aligning with government guidelines. 


Foot and Mouth Disease 

 A critical concern to livestock industries is the potential for a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in the U.S. or North America to occur, which will have major adverse consequences on the U.S. cattle and other livestock industries, both economically and operationally. FMD is the most contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals (i.e., cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, wildlife). This disease causes blisters in the mouth and on the feet of these animals. It can be shed in saliva, via aerosols, or other body fluids of infected animals. Thankfully FMD does NOT affect public health or food safety so meat and milk from affected animals are safe to eat and drink. Regardless, the effects on our economy, trade, and way of life would be tremendous if this disease were to enter the U.S. or North America. 

If FMD enters North America, the U.S. losses are estimated to range from $16-$140 billion, according to a risk assessment published in 2015. These losses include response expenses such as personnel deployment, laboratory services, depopulation, advanced cleaning and disinfection, and lost opportunities such as lost farm income, shutting down of agricultural exports and trade, and consumer concerns. To minimize these losses, collaboration and cooperation will be key from several sectors in the supply chain in a FAD response. Livestock producers, veterinarians, supply chain counterparts, law enforcement, and local/state/federal government officials all need to understand their role when USDA announces an FMD outbreak. 

It is important for producers and veterinarians to know that all normal activities would be halted and limited animal movement would be implemented at the start of the outbreak to allow for Regulatory Officials to identify where the infected animals are and plan for safe movement of animals. Dynamics of the outbreak will change frequently and each state will be relying on their state animal health officials to establish quarantines, enact stop movement orders, and advise on euthanasia and disposal. 


Secure Beef Supply 

For livestock producers, having biosecurity and contingency plans (i.e., communication, managing movements, financial risk management) in place before such an event are tools that will help U.S. producers maintain their business if they are unable to market their animals during an FMD outbreak. Producers have a responsibility to protect their animals and facilities from becoming infected, which includes having an enhanced biosecurity plan, educating their family and employees, and having a contingency plan to manage through movement restrictions. For operations not directly infected by FMD or another FAD, maintaining continuity of business through an outbreak will be essential to mitigate economic impacts. 

The Secure Food Supply (SFS) Plans were developed in collaboration between the livestock industries, state and federal government officials, and two universities: Iowa State University and Kansas State University. These plans provide guidance for livestock producers to voluntarily prepare before a foreign animal disease outbreak to limit exposure of their animals through enhanced biosecurity. For beef operations, the Secure Beef Supply (SBS) plan is an voluntary, operational specific enhanced biosecurity plan with intentions of keeping the operation from being exposed or infected. In addition, animals with no evidence of infection may qualify for a movement permit which contributes to business continuity for the livestock industry, transporters, packers, and processors. Veterinarians play an essential role in everyday health of animals and especially during a FAD outbreak. Community veterinarians will be able to assist state animal health officials and state veterinary offices by training producers in biosecurity planning and acting as the validator for SBS plans during an outbreak. Sample collection, overseeing FMD vaccination, and verifying biosecurity practices will be instrumental in preventing spread of the disease and protecting their livelihoods of producers. 


Daily Biosecurity Planning 

While preparing for a potential FAD outbreak may seem daunting, many biosecurity steps are already being taken daily on cattle operations. Biosecurity and herd health complement each other, and your herd veterinarian is an ideal team member to help prepare. Each operation should have a resource group of professionals and experts that can aid in decision making for the cattle operation and build a foundation for protective biosecurity practices. 

Remembering that biosecurity is the cheapest and most effective means of disease control and is an area that the cattle producer has the most control over. Good biosecurity programs will protect cattle herds from diseases where there is not good vaccine. Trichomoniasis or anaplasmosis are great examples where biosecurity to prevent the disease from getting into the herd is easier and cheaper than investigating and treating the disease. 

Annual biosecurity training for employees and visitors in control practices can reduce the risk of disease spread between animals and humans (zoonotic disease) and prioritizes public health among employees and visitors. These practices can protect the operation from lawsuits and financial loss. The following are key principles of biosecurity to remember when you are evaluating your operation. 

  • Exclusion: Complete removal of disease risks with no introduction of animals, equipment, or other risk; most effective but most difficult to implement 
  • Separation: Preventing exposure to disease by using physical means (e.g., walls, gates, distance), time (e.g., quarantine period, time between visits), or procedures (e.g., changing footwear or clothing, dedicating employees to one area of the operation) to minimize disease spread 
  • Cleaning: Removing organic matter from equipment or clothing to enhance effectiveness of disinfectants 
  • Disinfection: Proper product selection for the pathogen of concern is critical along with applying at the correct concentration and contact time; read the label of each product used 

Identifying routes of transmission of various pathogens can help protect against new or emerging infectious diseases. An animal must be exposed to these pathogens to develop disease, so understanding the routes out transmission makes it easier to gain control over the spread. To fully assess the herd risk and individual animal risk, it is important to know what pathogens are leaving the operation, entering the operation, and spreading throughout the operation. Disease agents can spread from animal to animal (within or between species) or animal to human (zoonotic), or vice versa. When assessing biological risk management, the main routes of transmission to consider are: aerosol, direct contact, fomite, oral, and vector-borne. Zoonotic diseases (which spread from animals to humans through any of the previous routes) are important for human, animal, and public health. From a management standpoint, it may be easier to identify risk areas (such as fomites) and then design protocols to minimize exposure. 

Cattle producers and veterinarians should collaborate to develop a biosecurity plan that suits the individual operation. The Beef Checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program developed a daily biosecurity plan template for producers and veterinarians to complete together as a team. Understanding current risks and preventing future risks is essential to protecting the herd and it helps to have an outside set of eyes evaluating the operation. Across the beef supply chain, companies are seeking cattle producers and business partners that demonstrate similar, consistent management philosophies that ensure the safety and quality of products leaving their facilities. Implementing BQA biosecurity principles and planning can help producers avoid costly production mistakes. Veterinarians serve as key assets for producers with advising on many aspects of the operation such as animal health and welfare, nutrition, biosecurity, and best management practices. These resources can serve as a template for evaluating the operation’s activities and discovering potential areas of improvement. 

The daily biosecurity plan’s flexibility allows producers and their resource team to evaluate what management practices work best for their situation. From animal movement and employee training to pest control, the tool includes all aspects that should be considered. When producers and their herd veterinarian work through this stepwise plan, it provides a unique opportunity to evaluate each operation thoroughly and collaborate on ideas for improvement. 

BQA collaborated with the USDA-funded SBS Plan to ensure similar language and completeness. This is particularly helpful when an operation moves to an enhanced biosecurity plan, which will be necessary during a potential foreign animal disease outbreak, because the producer already has some of the biosecurity steps in place from the daily template. Livestock veterinarians are essential in recognizing disease outbreaks at farms, livestock markets, and packing plants, and play an important role in ensuring a safe food supply. These biosecurity plans can improve preparedness and awareness of potential biosecurity threats in addition to building a trusting relationship with producers. 


 Moving Forward 

With the cattle industry continuously looking to improve everyday biosecurity practices on the farm or ranch, it is important producers and veterinarians have practical tools and resources. All producers will start their biosecurity plans at different levels, so emphasizing foundational biosecurity principles will be advantageous during development of the plan. Cattle producers in all sectors should strive for continuous improvement in biosecurity planning including record keeping and annual reassessment of their practices. For more information and downloadable preparation documents, visit the BQA website at www.bqa.org or the Secure Beef Supply Plan website at securebeef.org. The greatest contribution to disease preparedness will include preparation through biosecurity planning in the beef industry and collaboration among all levels of the supply chain will be vital as we continue to protect the integrity of our cattle and livestock industries. 

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of NCBA Directions Magazine.