An official website of the United States government.

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you've safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Constraints to Uptake of Adequate Biosecurity on UK Cattle and Sheep Farms, with Special Reference to Zoonotic Diseases


The overall objective of the project is to identify and rank the main constraints to the implementation of adequate biosecurity measures for the control of zoonotic disease and infections in terms of the spread to human population and within and between cattle and sheep populations on UK cattle and sheep farms, and to make recommendations that would enhance such implementation. The intermediate objectives of the project are:
<OL> <LI> To identify constraints to the uptake of and adherence to animal health schemes offering accreditation for disease freedom or disease monitoring;
<LI> To identify issues that cattle and sheep farmers consider as key constraints and key incentives to uptake of better biosecurity measures on cattle and sheep farms
<LI> To identify issues that the members of the British Cattle Veterinary Association and the Sheep Veterinary Society consider as key constraints to uptake of better biosecurity measures on cattle and sheep farms;
<LI> To carry out case studies and associated cost-benefit analyses on the establishment of adequate biosecurity measures on a number of cattle and sheep farms;
<LI> To identify issues that the auxiliary industries (e.g. livestock markets, hauliers and cattle dealers) consider as key constraints and key incentives to uptake of better biosecurity measures on cattle and sheep farms </ol>
To disseminate the findings of the project and make recommendations to the veterinary profession, farmers and policy makers and the scientific community.

More information

Progress: These objectives were approached by five separate surveys: <UL> <LI>
A study of farmer attitudes based on the Theory of Reasoned Action (TORA) and a series of farmer focus group discussions.
<LI> A postal questionnaire survey of cattle and sheep practices and the members of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.
<LI> Case study survey of health scheme member and non-member farmers in order to establish real costs and benefits of biosecurity measures at farm level.
<LI> A telephone questionnaire survey of 28 industry operators and stakeholders involved in farming or management of countryside.
<LI> A telephone survey of 46 health scheme member and 52 non-member farmers on the constraints and benefits of joining health schemes.
The key findings of the project were: <UL>
<LI> Farmers had a comprehensive and uniform understanding of the meaning of biosecurity at farm level.
<LI> There were some distinct regional differences in farmer perceptions with regard to biosecurity: the Scottish farmers put considerable emphasis on closed herds and flocks and the prevention of disease entry through introduced stock, while English and Welsh farmers highlighted issues like disinfection.
<LI> Farmer expectations of the outcomes of improved biosecurity were dependent on how positively they viewed the future of farming: those who had a negative view of the future of farming in general, and their own farm in particular, were more likely to have only negative outcome perceptions of biosecurity.
<LI> There is clearly a lack of trusted referents for farmers, in terms of advice on biosecurity. Measures and definitions associated with statutory disease control were often viewed in a negative light. Advice and support from the local veterinarian was trusted most.
<LI> There was a strong feeling of frustration and isolation among farmers, who felt that they were expected to put in measures in the absence of action from others.
<LI> While the majority of veterinarians felt that lack of client interest and client inability to invest in biosecurity was a main issue preventing them from promoting biosecurity amongst their clients, approximately 40% of veterinary respondents felt that lack of interest in biosecurity amongst veterinarians, lack of confidence in biosecurity and its efficacy and lack of know-how about biosecurity among veterinarians were either an important or a very important factor.
<LI> The veterinary respondents estimated that the uptake of three key biosecurity measures amongst their clients ranged from 5%-15%.
<LI> All surveys suggested that there is an underlying complexity associated with farm level biosecurity measures: some measures are easy and others are difficult or impossible on one farm and vice versa oon another farm.
<LI> The main drivers, as perceived by farmers, for improved biosecurity on cattle and sheep farms were: financial gain, improved animal health and welfare, professional pride, desire to practice good husbandry and to improve farmer reputation (mainly by getting rid of ‘bad farmers’).
<LI> The main drivers for improved biosecurity on cattle and sheep farms, as perceived by veterinarians, were: establishment of proven efficacy of measures, education (not necessarily carried out by local veterinarians), financial incentives for farmers and government policy and enforcement.
<LI> The main barriers, as perceived by farmers, for improved biosecurity were: a perceived questionable efficacy of measures in the absence of action by others, high potential or perceived cost, inability to appreciate any benefits, perceived increase in bureaucracy and paperwork and fear of the loss of independence.
<LI> The main barriers, as perceived by veterinarians, for improved biosecurity were: perceived physical difficulty of realistically implementing many biosecurity measures, farmer attitudes (inadequate understanding of risks and benefits), cost of implementation and questionable efficacy of the measures promoted.
<LI> The main barriers, as perceived by other farming and countryside industry representatives, for improved biosecurity at farm level were: the cost and farmer attitudes and/or lack of farmer collaboration.
<LI> The perceived cost of added biosecurity on both health scheme member and non-member farms far outweighed the perceived benefits from the biosecurity. By and large, farmers were poor at quantifying financial benefits of biosecurity, and often failed to identify or quantify any benefits at all without being prompted to do so.
<LI> Cost and ease of implementing the same (combination) of biosecurity measures on different farms are likely to vary markedly.
<LI> While all respondent groups highlighted the cost of biosecurity measures as a constraint, it was clear that financial implications were a constraint only to a point: measures that were seen as impossible to implement properly were often quoted as being costly , rather than being determined as impossible or impractical.
<LI> Neither the farming or countryside industry operators nor the veterinarians had clear policies or aspirations with regard to their support or action in farm level biosecurity. In fact, some of the breed associations and feed companies did not feel they had a role in it at all.
<LI> There were clear differences in the motivation of sheep and cattle farmers with regard to joining health schemes for disease monitoring or accreditation.
The key conclusions of the project are: <UL>
<LI> Biosecurity and its implementation are complex and potentially value-laden issues for both farmers and their closest partners, the local veterinarians.
<LI> Whole farm biosecurity is a complex combination of both ‘difficult’ and ‘easy’ measures that complement and, sometimes, contradict each other. Farmers and veterinarians are aware of this complexity.
<LI> On the basis of the limited data gathered within this survey, it appears that veterinarians have a relatively good understanding of biosecurity measures and their efficacy in relation to some major zoonoses, prevalent in the UK. However, neither farmers nor veterinarians raised zoonotic diseases as an important driver or factor in decisions taken with regard to biosecurity implementation at farm level. The auxiliary industries, on the other hand, highlighted particularly zoonotic diseases when asked about their concerns with regard to biosecurity.
<LI> The existing information with regard to the cost:benefit ratio of biosecurity measures at farm level is clearly inadequate. In the light of the poor ability/willingness of farmers to identify or quantify biosecurity benefits, it appears important to collate and create better data in this area.
<LI> The overall results of the project suggest that little change in approaches to biosecurity has taken place on UK sheep and cattle farms as a result of the 2001 FMD outbreak.
<LI> The results of this study show that there is very little internal cohesion and collaborative effort or spirit between and within the different stakeholders responsible for and contributing to farm level biosecurity in the UK. Indeed, the needs and aspirations of the different stakeholder groups are very disparate, they have negative perceptions of each others’ contribution to the common cause of biosecurity and there is a tendency to ‘apportion blame’.
The key recommendations of the project are: <UL>
<LI> There is a need to address the perceived barrier of ‘Why us?’ (i.e. a farmer perception that only farmers are expected to do something about biosecurity and/or that farmer efforts will be useless due to lack of action or wrong action by others) among farmers
<UL> <LI> By transparent information on the actions taken/not taken by the government in protecting the borders;
<LI> By transparent information on the actual risks posed by public access to farmland and by a clear biosecurity message from the pressure groups promoting access to the countryside
<LI> By transparent information on the actual risks posed by veterinarians and the different auxiliary industries visiting farms and a clear message and action by these partners on biosecurity in association with farm visits; and
<LI> By exploring the potential for farmer-farmer and other collaboration in improving biosecurity. </ul>
<LI> There is a need to address the perceived barriers to increased local veterinary involvement in biosecurity promotion at farm level
<UL> <LI> By producing convincing information on the efficacy and costs and benefits of improved biosecurity,
<LI> By producing financial comparative data on the cumulative effects of biosecurity as opposed to continued vaccination policies;
<LI> By improving veterinary education and training in the area of biosecurity; and
<LI> By exploring the possibilities of making local veterinarians stakeholders in commercial health schemes. </ul>
<LI> A need to address the perceived negative association of biosecurity with bureaucracy and loss of control by both farmers and veterinarians. It is suggested that
<UL> <LI> The term ’herd or flock health security’ is used instead. </ul>
<LI> There is a need to avoid messages about biosecurity that are too simplistic or misleading by
<UL> <LI> Ensuring that all measures that are recommended are proven and validated in a transparent manner that takes into account practical farm level issues.
<LI> Accepting that, on some farms, some measures are impossible/not feasible to implement and seeking solutions within a wider policy framework. </ul>
<LI> It may be of value
<UL> <LI> To review and summarise the existing knowledge on the potential impact of improved biosecurity on cattle and sheep farms on the control of zoonoses. </ul>
<LI> There is a need to: <UL> <LI>
Provide indications of the marginal benefits of alternative on-farm biosecurity actions under specific circumstances.
<LI> Establish a hierarchy of on-farm biosecurity actions in terms of cost:benefit in response to animal health and welfare priorities as they emerge in the main livestock farming systems/regions.
<LI> Identify the best contributions that on-farm biosecurity can make (e.g. risk management, cost minimisation or contribution towards food quality assurance) to farm business performance under emerging economic conditions. </UL>
<LI> It is considered to be opportune to
<UL> <LI> Establish how farm level measures could be enhanced to improve biosecurity against foot and mouth disease and other exotic threats.
</UL> <LI> It is suggested that, while drawing from the existing biosecurity initiatives, a strong central policy lead in biosecurity at farm level is needed

University of Reading
Scottish Agricultural College
Start date
End date
Project number