At the close of 2019, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Bob Owen from Best Veterinary Solutions Inc. speak to a crowd of commercial poultry professionals at the annual PennAg Meat and Egg meeting in Manheim, Pennsylvania.

Owen is known worldwide for his expertise in biosecurity. However, in recent years, he admits he finds more and more of his industry colleagues glazing over and snoozing during his presentations on biosecurity. He wanted to figure out why biosecurity talks are boring his audiences, and why we claim to have top-notch biosecurity practices, but continue to have puzzling outbreaks of disease like infectious coryza.

Owen’s presentation focused on the psychology of biosecurity. I found his discussion of compliance versus adherence compelling, and it rings true for all flocks, 12 or 1.2 million.

Compliance and Adherence

But before we comply or adhere, we need a better understanding of what biosecurity is.

We hear the term daily in poultry operations all over the world, but what does it mean to us, individually?

Biosecurity is a spectrum of risk. The risk is contamination or spread of disease by humans, animals and equipment. As many of us know, risks associated with disease are everywhere regardless of the agricultural product produced. Until these products can be made in a vacuum, biosecurity and risk management will always be necessary.

Where we producers and managers come in is the mitigation, management and elimination of the risks. Our plants and animals cannot mitigate these risks on their own. Often, they are the ones creating their own risks. We must understand the biology of our products, the epidemiology of the pathogens our products face, and a little common sense.

Armed with this knowledge, we can create plans that are practically implemented to effectively protect our livelihoods.

The idea of compliance versus adherence can be simply explained as the difference between what we’re doing and what we should be doing.

Compliance is acknowledgment of the speed limit. Adherence is obeying said limits even when I’m running late for work.

Compliance is spending extra money, time and effort to “ramp up” biosecurity plans and effort during a known disease outbreak. Adherence is actually donning those Tyvek suits and plastic booties before stepping foot on a farm and into a poultry house.

Compliance in terms of biosecurity looks very familiar to those of us who have lived through a disease outbreak. Having endured quarantines and major loss of flocks, it looks like an investment in booties, suits and disinfectants. It also can show in hundreds of binders with well-thought-out farm plans and procedures, with signatures of compliant growers, co-workers and management who understand and agree to follow the plans.

Adherence in terms of biosecurity is equally easy to see, but you just have to know what you’re looking for. Adherence to biosecurity plans looks like fewer quarantine emails and less loss of production. You can usually find a lot of disposed suits and empty bootie boxes in the dumpster. Those biosecurity binders have frequent revisions and documentation of re-training for growers and employees.

Compliance meets adherence when the plans we set forth are put into action to reduce the spread and risk of contamination and disease.

But where do these ideas diverge?

Staying Vigilant

From my perspective as a poultry educator, we seem to be hit the hardest when we are least expecting it. During the avian influenza outbreak of 2014-2015, many poultry companies and growers were caught off guard and were devastated by a disease that has since been largely prevented. All the biosecurity plans, Tyvek suits, and Lysol in the world could not have protected us from HPAI. We needed to protect us from ourselves.

Most of the 2014-2015 outbreak can be traced back to breaks in biosecurity protocol. On paper, we seemed compliant. In practice, however, lapses in judgment and adherence proved disastrous.

Biosecurity in times of trouble should be equaled in times of peace.

In the nearly five years since the last HPAI outbreak, compliance and adherence to biosecurity protocols have prevented further destruction.

How do we stay vigilant? How do we ensure our compliance and adherence?

We simply should do what we say we are to do. Don and doff the suits and booties when we say we will. Disinfect tires and equipment when we say we should. Observe proper downtime despite the heavy demand for eggs and meat. Observe and test birds regularly to stay ahead of disease challenges. If and when a risk becomes too great, we should reassess the risk, revise our biosecurity protocols, and retrain our team.

Biosecurity costs a lot more than a box of booties, it lasts longer than the latest outbreak, and it should be our new normal in the poultry industry today.

Thank you, Dr. Owen, for your enlightening discussion in December.

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Emily Shoop is a Penn State Extension poultry educator based in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.


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