Why is biosecurity important?

Biosecurity is a series of measures to protect against the entry and spread of pests and diseases. It includes both:

  • protection of Australia's borders at ports and airports
  • our practices and habits on properties to reduce the risk of disease or infestation.

Biosecurity is something that all good producers practise to some extent, whether they are aware of it or not. If a producer has a boundary fence that keeps out neighbouring sheep, or refuses to buy sheep with obvious signs of footrot, this is biosecurity in practice.

Exotic diseases

As daunting as it may sound, exotic disease incursions occur every few years in Australian livestock. Luckily for the sheep and cattle grazing industries, disease incursions in the past have occurred in:

  • horses
  • poultry
  • pigeons.

However, outbreaks of exotic diseases are a stark reminder of how vulnerable the livestock industry is to incursions. The major disease that the livestock industry is concerned about is foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). If FMD were to occur in Australia, many of our international markets would disappear overnight.

The reality is that protection against FMD is a continuum — preventing it from entering the country through strict biosecurity laws and border controls is only part of the defence. On-farm biosecurity has an important role to play as well.

The early recognition and reporting of FMD has enormous influence on the time it would take to eradicate the disease and the cost of eradication. A recent report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimated that confining an outbreak of FMD to a small number of farms rather than allowing it to become a large outbreak would save the Australian livestock industries around $46 billion.

In a large outbreak, cattle prices would drop by 80 per cent. Even after 10 years, prices would still be 20 per cent below current prices. In comparison, in a small outbreak where the disease was discovered early, the price drop for cattle would initially be around 15 per cent, and the price would return to pre-outbreak prices within three to four years.

Clinical signs of FMD

Initial signs of FMD in cattle are fever, followed by development of fluid-filled blisters in the mouth and on the feet. Affected animals are depressed and off food, have very painful mouths, drool and are usually lame. In sheep, these signs may be very subtle, with mild lameness often the only evidence of infection.

As a producer, you don't have to be able to accurately diagnose FMD on your property, but you do have to be vigilant and report any suspicion of disease. If you see any of these signs or anything unusual affecting your livestock, contact your local private or government vet, or ring the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Endemic diseases

Good on-farm biosecurity achieves a number of things, including keeping out endemic diseases, many of which have serious economic implications. The practices in a good biosecurity plan minimise disease incursions and ensure that, if the farm gate controls break down and a disease incursion occurs, the disease is confined to a small part of the farm, making it easier and less costly to control.

Remember: the best way of keeping out disease is to have a closed flock, with good boundary fences. If the cost of replacing that old fence seems prohibitive, think about the $1.50 per sheep you'll pay to treat lice, and you'll pay that every year until that fence is made sheep-proof.

Biosecurity is everyone's responsibility.

For more information on biosecurity see Farm Biosecurity.

Dr Pat Kluver

Page last updated: 22 Jul 2021