Written by: Paul Davis, Ph.D. | April 18, 2022
Biosecurity is often defined as procedures intended to protect humans or animals against disease or harmful biological agents. For the animal food industry, biosecurity manifests as putting in place plans or programs intended to prevent feed, people and vehicles from introducing and/or spreading pathogens to livestock and poultry.
The creation of biosecurity plans and practices begins with identifying all the potential sources of diseases or harmful biological agents. Once these are identified, metrics, such as the possibility, probability and severity of the potential risks, are overlayed on the sources, and then a set of biosecurity practices can be established. History and experience also play a role in creating and updating these plans and practices.
With that in mind, I wondered how the COVID-19 pandemic has improved our biosecurity programs. I sat down with two individuals with diverse backgrounds from different regions of the country to gather their perspectives.
“Trying to find a silver lining in the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown at us, our industry and the world isn’t easy,” said Donavan Nelson, quality assurance and formulation specialist of Vita Plus Corporation. "But it’s hard to deny that for anyone who weathered the pandemic and was able to remain staffed at levels that allowed them to serve their customers, undoubtably made changes in their day-to-day operations that kept their employees safe, but also more than likely strengthened their facility’s biosecurity programs.”
For some, precautions employed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic had already been commonplace.
“Pre-pandemic, Vita Plus had already restricted facility access to only essential visits. All tours and non-essential visits had been eliminated to mitigate risks associated with African swine fever, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) and other animal diseases, which made for one less change to implement with COVID-19,” said Nelson. “One notable change we made was customer access to our facilities to pick up bagged feed. Feed mill offices were closed to all external personnel, which eliminated a cross-contamination point of foot traffic with outside personnel. As risks have been reassessed, this has been loosened up in some areas, but it did prove that there are different and manageable ways business can be conducted during times where heightened awareness is warranted.”
Dan Rice, quality assurance director at Western Milling, echoed the sentiment.
“It's interesting to consider that we’re at a stage of the pandemic where we can identify areas where our biosecurity programs improved due to COVID-19,” said Rice. “When I think about actions taken at Western Milling, I break it down into three categories: people, process and plant.
“For people – while we had limited access historically, we eliminated all tours, visitors and even non-essential employees for the feed manufacturing locations. For process, we re-assessed and re-established our zoning protocols to define manufacturing activities more clearly with the intent of better synchronizing movements across the facilities. Lastly, while it seems such a long time ago during the ‘fog of war’ stage of the pandemic, it was very uncertain how COVID-19 was being transmitted,” Rice said “During that ‘plant’ stage, we made several upgrades to our truck washing stations that will have an added long term benefit to enhance the biosecurity of our fleet.”
So, is it fair to say that the industry improved its biosecurity due to COVID-19? Yes. But with many human and animal disease threats at our backdoors, such as ASF, now is not the time to be complacent. We must continue working together, as an industry, to improve our biosecurity processes and procedures for the future.