Pig veterinarians understand biosecurity. Pig producers understand bio-security. “Town people” not so much.
When I drive onto a client’s farm, I always slip on disposable shoe covers as I step out of my vehicle. This is followed by a change into the boots and clothes provided by the farm. When I am back in town, I also slip on disposable shoe covers at the gas station, farm store, or other locations frequented by farmers. Returning to my vehicle I pull off the shoe covers, turn them inside out and place them in a garbage bag behind the seat so my floor mat doesn’t get contaminated. People in town look at me like I have some kind of “obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD).” I just smile and say “I am preventing spread of that new pig virus with my shoe condoms.” Some laugh, and some look even more puzzled. If they saw my office desk they would know I do not have OCD!
Farm biosecurity is a series of management practices designed to minimize or prevent the introduction of infectious diseases onto a farm. Our non-farm friends do not understand the concept of farm biosecurity. (My spell checker highlights “biosecurity” as a misspelled word). From their own human-health experiences they understand prevention of disease by avoiding direct contact. But they do not understand the concept of indirect transmission through contamination and movement of inanimate objects. The concept is easy to learn, and when you explain it, they get it. They can relate to “dirty boots,” “door knobs,” and “TV remote controls.”
At the farm, good biosecurity management practices include farm entry protocols limiting “drive-in” and “walk-in” visitors. Farms have fences and big signs that say “no visitors allowed.” Veterinarians have been so effective in teaching pig farmers the principles of good biosecurity that they have created a “curtain,” limiting farm access to some of the greatest allies of animal agriculture – our cousins, neighbors, and friends.
Ironically, we have helped the adversaries of animal agriculture by holding up the curtain that they site as evidence for distrust, when in reality, the curtain is there not to hide transgressions, but to prevent disease. Really, we know that there are not that many anti-meat extremists. Yet they have successfully recruited sympathizers on welfare and antibiotic issues for which we know there are good solutions. Sympathizers recruited have money and social media presence – and we have played right into it. Some sympathizers are American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) members!
Our AASV association and its members are objective, trusted, and well respected. We share positions of authority inside the AVMA on many issues, including welfare and antibiotic issues. We are also problem solvers. I believe it is time AASV and its members solve the problem of the biosecurity curtain. We can help our clients rebuild trust by assisting the industry in developing biosecure means and methods to allow visitors.
I see it already happening. Some farms are hosting an annual “open house” for their community. Fair Oaks Farms of Indiana’s Pig Adventure has been a huge public-relations success. Last year I was a guest of DNA Swine Genetics in Nebraska at their Insight Performance Center where I was privileged to see the investment they had made into their Observatory Conference Room viewing the inside of their production facility.
All of these are great ideas! We can do more. Operation Main Street, sponsored by the National Pork Board, has attracted many of our members to participate in public outreach to “get the word out” with public-speaking opportunities. Just ask Dr Jeff Harker. What a great promoter he is! We need more “Jeffs”! Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Operation Main Street in front of every veterinary student in the country?
Better yet would be for every veterinary student to be on a hog farm at least once. That would be a concrete measurable achievement. We need future AVMA members to understand the swine industry and what pig veterinarians do. Let’s make the biosecurity curtain transparent.
Ron Brodersen, DVM