Securing farms

An animal science professor is studying an unusual form of security.   Dr. Julie Smith is part of a USDA-funded group working on a biosecurity project to help educate farmers on the precautions to take in order to prevent the contraction of diseases in their livestock.   The main focus of the project is foot-and-mouth disease, a viral disease that affects the major food-producing animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, Smith said.   “Farmers need to know more about this disease and what would happen if this disease was in their country,” she said. “We want to help farmers consider their risk factors. Animals that become infected with foot-and-mouth may not necessarily die, but once an animal is infected, it would no longer have any value.”   The definition of biosecurity is minimizing the chance of spreading something like a disease or pathogen, she said.   The impact this disease would have on large amounts of livestock would be devastating to the local, and eventually the nation-wide, economy, Smith said.   “[Foot-and-mouth] is considered [to be] one of the most severe socioeconomic diseases,” Smith said. “It could potentially cause large export and import issues throughout the world and directly affect some livestock producers.”    Smith’s project provides suggestions to prevent the spread of the disease.    “We try to help farmers get a better handle on who the various contacts are with their livestock and keep track of them,” she said.   The disease is also transferred among people, and although they are not affected by the disease, they can carry it around on their hands, hair and farm equipment, Smith said.    “The biggest challenge is [that farmers] don’t really know whether they are at risk or not,” Smith said. “But if you do a risk analysis and you are at a higher risk for contracting the disease, maybe you should be taking more steps towards prevention.”     With four farms as case studies, Smith and her colleagues said they have been able to spread knowledge of biosecurity and help farmers realize that taking precaution against foot-and-mouth is important.   The team has been working for about three years and will continue to work on it as a long-term project. Smith said her mission is to spread biosecurity education further in the future.