USDA grants $7.4m to study animal bisecurity

University of Vermont-led team at forefront of national effort to reduce catastrophic disease outbreaks in livestock.

A recently announced $7.4 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will place the University of Vermont (UVM) at the forefront of a national effort to reduce the impact of catastrophic disease outbreaks within the U.S. livestock industry.

UVM will lead the multi-institutional effort, multi-disciplinary biosecurity initiative. The end-product will be a variety of research-based messaging strategies, educational programs, web modules and other initiatives designed to protect food-producing livestock from new, emerging or foreign diseases and pests.

While introducing new biosecurity products like vaccines to agricultural producers is relatively easy, changing the behaviors of producers, veterinarians and others in the livestock supply chain is at least as important to animal health and is much more challenging, said team leader Julie Smith, an associate professor with joint appointments in UVM Extension and the department of animal and veterinary sciences in the UVM College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.

For that reason, the project integrates faculty from a number of different disciplines, including those in veterinary, animal and social sciences.

"Our goal is to facilitate the development and adoption of practices and policies that collectively reduce the impact of new diseases of food-producing hoofstock," Smith said. "So we are taking a human behavioral approach rather than a disease-specific one and integrating theories of behavior change, communications and economic decision-making."

The project will guard against contagious new diseases that may emerge, as well as ones such as foot and mouth disease, which has not been diagnosed in the U.S. since 1929 but could have a devastating impact on the U.S. food-producing livestock industry.

Collaborating research and extension faculty are based at the University of Kentucky, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Montana State University and Washington State University. Representatives of many agricultural stakeholder groups will serve in an advisory role to the project.

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