By Treena Hein
No one would argue that today, compliance with on-farm biosecurity protocols is more important than ever. Proper training of how to carry out protocols is obviously important; but if the protocols are not followed consistently by all farm personnel and visitors, the biosecurity program will be ineffective.
Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, professor in the Research Group on the Epidemiology of Zoonoses and Public Health at the University of Montréal in Québec, Canada, has studied on-farm biosecurity compliance for many years, as has Manon Racicot, adjunct professor in the university’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and a veterinary epidemiologist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Vaillancourt has traveled the world many times during the last few decades and has seen an alarming lack of compliance.
“I’ve been to farms in many African and European countries, many parts of USA and Canada, all over,” Vaillancourt says. “They know who I am, that I study biosecurity protocols and compliance, and they don’t even carry out the protocols in front of me. I would assume that if they don’t do it while I’m there, they likely don’t do so when I’m not around.”
Indeed, Vaillancourt is not aware of a place in the world where compliance rates are high.
“Maybe in the Scandinavian countries it might be highest,” he says. “They have a culture in which there is a favorable view of rules, and for following rules. In many other developed countries however, if there is any sort of legal restriction put in place, citizens [including farmers] tend to immediately find a way to get around it.”
However, even when cultural attitudes favor compliance, Vaillancourt reports some instances where complying with biosecurity training resources won’t achieve any biosecurity advantage.
“I show my students training videos from Canada and the U.S. on an ongoing basis and get them to pick out what’s not correct,” he says. “There’s one from western Canada a few years old where they show how to use a footbath, and the actor gets in and then gets out backwards, instead of stepping forward. There’s also one from a U.S. state that shows a footbath, and it’s out of the way where it can easily be ignored — and again, the actors also go back to where they were standing before they use the footbath.”
Contaminated boots should stay in “contaminated” areas of pig barn entrances, and “clean” boots should stay in the “clean” area. A three-zone entrance area (with contaminated, transition and clean zones) has been shown to work well in preventing cross-contamination and encouraging compliance, but space availability may pose a challenge, especially in older barns.
The design of the area must also be right. Research by Racicot and her colleagues has found that placing benches between clean and dirty zones is much more effective in achieving compliance than delineation of zones with a line on the floor.
Physical barriers like benches also aid in preventing organic material from flying off boots and clothing from the contaminated to the clean area, and vice versa.
Other compliance factors
Regular on-farm training and review meetings help with compliance, say Racicot and Vaillancourt, but compliance rates afterward depend to some extent on how the information is presented. That is, if it’s not presented as important, workers won’t perceive it as anything to pay close attention to.
The use of cameras has been researched and can help in some instances; but even in workplace situations where they are accepted by workers (and used not to punish, but to reward compliant employees), Racicot and Vaillancourt note that a manager would have to watch a great deal of footage very carefully on an ongoing basis.
Providing adequate resources is also important in achieving biosecurity protocol compliance on-farm. Vaillancourt, Racicot and their colleagues have been to many farms where the sanitizer unit was empty, there was no pen to sign the logbook, there were no plastic boots for visitors, etc.
Compliance is also definitely aided by signs and other reminders. The messages should also be conveyed using images and symbols rather than words alone, however, as some employees may not have high levels of English reading skills.
While signs and other reminders are effective for a while, they do lose effect over time. That’s why current compliance research in Canada is turning to the use of instantaneous feedback to ensure behavior is carried out. Real-time feedback has been shown to be a powerful learning and compliance tool in many types of settings.
“The question is, how can we provide instant feedback when people enter and exit a barn space so that they are guided to actually carry out the protocol?” Racicot notes. “You have to provide the feedback at the most optimal moment, or otherwise you lose a lot of impact.”
In January, Racicot began testing a new real-time feedback compliance system in a barn in Québec. It’s a radio frequency identification tag system that was originally designed to monitor hand-washing of health care workers (sensing automatically, for example, if hospital staff visit hand-washing stations, and how often). To learn more, visit bit.ly/youtubehandwash.
Keeping France free of African swine fever
Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt will travel to France every month this year, serving on the Animal Health and Welfare committee for ANSES (the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety) to advise on how best to prevent African swine fever from entering the country. The disease has been found recently in Belgium, Hungary and a few other nearby countries.
As of Jan. 29, of the 959 wild boars found dead in the Belgian countryside, 389 were positive for ASF — some as close as 2 kilometers from the French border.
However, Vaillancourt says it’s positive that most border areas between Belgium and France are not likely to allow migration of wild boars. “Some options we are looking at for the border are electric fences, lights at night, odorous repellents, hunting stations, use of dogs, mapping of water sources,” he says. “There is also a lot of effort going into how to best reduce wild boar populations. There has been an increase in wild boar populations over the last three decades, and a decrease in hunters.”
It’s also good that France’s commercial hog operations are mostly in Brittany, far from the Belgian border. However, there are farms near the border with small backyard herds or even a single pig. “In these areas, classic biosecurity measures are important, and the installation of double fences [separated by at least a meter] is being looked at,” says Vaillancourt.
“It’s not a virus that’s easily transmissible, it’s not really airborne, but it’s extremely resilient; and a wild boar carcass — for weeks, if not months — remains a source of contamination. So, farmers who have pigs shouldn’t hunt; but if they do, they must deal carefully with the carcass and fully decontaminate before they have contact with their own pigs.”
Treena Hein is an award-winning Canadian writer specializing in ag science, technology and business trends. Find her online.