Biosecurity and the management of emergency animal disease among commercial beef producers in Australia
Hernandez-Jover, M and Higgins, V and Bryant, M and Rast, L and McShane, C, Biosecurity and the management of emergency animal disease among commercial beef producers in Australia, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 134 pp. 92-102. ISSN 0167-5877 (2016) [Refereed Article]
Australia places great importance on the prevention and management of emergency animal diseases (EAD), with strict quarantine measures offshore and at the border. Livestock producers are crucial for disease control onshore; however, limited information is available on commercial livestock producers' practices in relation to the management of disease risks. The aims of this paper are to investigate how commercial beef producers in Australia's Northern and Southern beef zones manage EADs and to identify drivers for effective biosecurity and EAD prevention. This paper forms part of a broader mixed methods research project involving an analysis of literature and current policies, qualitative semi-structured interviews with government and industry stakeholders and a cross-sectional study among beef producers. The cross-sectional study used a postal survey (n=182) and face-to-face interviews (n=34) to gather data on beef producers' knowledge and practices on biosecurity and EADs and their communication networks. Findings indicate that producers are uncertain about the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders involved in biosecurity and EAD management. This uncertainty may create confusion about EAD management and impact upon producers' willingness to report animal disease, with over 20% reporting the last veterinary contact more than five years ago and an additional 8.5% who had never contacted a veterinarian. Producers had a generally high awareness of the key sources of animal disease risk and they prioritise herd health planning as part of their everyday practices. Over 40% of producers had limited knowledge of the meaning of EAD; and EAD and biosecurity planning was given a low priority, primarily due to the perceived limited likelihood of an EAD event in Australia and the belief that EAD prevention is primarily the role of government. Only a moderate implementation of biosecurity practices, such as isolating incoming animals, having a single property entry point or keeping visitors' records was reported. If faced with an unusual disease event, most producers would contact their private or government veterinarian; however, in some instances most would also treat themselves and over a third would do nothing. Findings from this study suggest that there is a need for better coordination between stakeholders to encourage a shared biosecurity and EAD understanding and to communicate a consistent message to all stakeholders including producers. Further, there is a need for improving producer awareness of the importance of EAD prevention and biosecurity practices as well as the stakeholders' roles within the broader animal health system.