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Virus frenzy underlines why biosecurity measures are so vital

This week we’ve become members of a virus-frenzied global society where almost overnight, something as cultural and common as shaking hands has become questionable, if not downright unacceptable. The coronavirus is shaking us to the core. And we really don’t know where it’s all going to end up.

But we can be certain that this episode in history is going to make everyone more aware than ever about biosecurity – that is, taking preventative measures to secure living organisms like humans and animals from exposure to other living organisms, like viruses and bacteria. That’s where the “bio” part of the word comes in.

Not shaking hands is a low-tech, practical and effective preventative measure against disease transmission. It’s not even that radical: it’s what people with a common cold have been told to do for ages.

However, it’s far from foolproof. Viruses can find their way into your body by many other means, such as through the air or water. Or inadvertently, passed on by handling coins or paper money. Who knows whose hands have touched that?

Farmers are taking particular note of all this enhanced interest in biosecurity, and with good reason. Since last fall they’ve been behind agriculture, food and rural affairs’ minister Ernie Hardeman’s efforts to step up measures against trespassing on farms.

Biosecurity issues are among the reasons why farms don’t always roll out the welcome mat to visitors. People can transmit diseases to animals, not only through direct, intended contact, but by something as hard to detect as nasty organisms that might be introduced on a car or truck tire, or the sole of a shoe, that comes onto a farm.

The vehicle and its driver and passengers come and go. The contaminant stays behind.

Some people, though, think they should have the right to go onto farms, especially livestock farms, to see if animal welfare measures are in place and whether animals are being treated properly.

The coronavirus pandemic shows why that’s just not practical. By all means, the public should be assured food animals are being raised to the highest standards, with some proof offered. But trespassing onto a farm is not the way to do it.

“Biosecurity best management practices on farms are key to preventing disease from entering, spreading or being carried off,” says Dr. Cathy Furness, Ontario’s chief veterinarian.

On Monday, she sent the media her thoughts on biosecurity, and discussed approaches farmers can take to limit exposure on their farms.

These measures include changing into dedicated boots and coveralls anytime they enter a different barn or work with a sick animal, having clearly defined animal housing and traffic areas, and ensuring any visitors to a farm are provided with uncontaminated boots and coveralls when entering premises.

Furness noted that as a third-generation veterinarian, she’s seen many changes over the years in Ontario’s animal agriculture … but one constant is that animal disease prevention is a top priority for farmers.

“Ontario livestock and poultry farmers do excellent work every day to maintain recognized biosecurity standards,” she said. “With the spread of foreign animal diseases throughout the world, this is critical. As with human health, new threats to animal health continually arise, with the potential to significantly impact farm animals, the economy and even public health.”

Maybe biosecurity messages of all kinds will resonate with the public in a new way now that the coronavirus has arrived.

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