Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on livestock production and animal health: Here are the FAO’s latest recommendations

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In its latest publication, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has released guidelines to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on livestock production and animal health.

According to the report, in order to avoid human-to-human transmission and prevent surface contamination including animal surfaces, it is advised to strengthen hygiene practices, including washing hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizers before and after entering farm areas and common places or having contact with animals, maintaining physical distancing, wearing necessary PPE, and avoiding overwork.

The report not only describes the impact of the deadly pandemic on livestock production and animal disease prevention and control but also provides practical recommendations for actors along value chains to reduce this impact and ensure continuity of the livestock supply chain and animal health.

Scroll on to read the practical recommendations and precautionary measures:

Recommendations for livestock farmers:

• Communicate with suppliers like feed, consumables and professional service providers such as veterinarians, mechanics, milk collectors to find solutions to secure supplies, inputs and services.

• Communicate through producer cooperatives or farmers associations – to reach out to policymakers regarding assistance, as well as obtaining necessary exemptions.

• Explore alternative sales channels, including online sales, e-commerce and direct sales using point-to-point transportation to deliver livestock and their products to buyers.

• Obtain the latest information on the evolving COVID-19 situation from trusted and reliable sources.

• Implement practical biosafety and biosecurity measures to prevent human contamination with COVID-19 on the farm, including installation of footbaths in between different areas if possible, maintaining a designated area for all external visitors, restricting visitors’ interactions with farmworkers and operations to essential activities only, routinely clean and disinfect common areas like resting areas, kitchens, sleeping quarters etc.

• Controlling interactions/socialization of people inside the farm, disinfecting equipment and other materials as they come onto the farm and at periodic intervals and maintaining general hygiene of the premises where the animals are kept.

• Raise awareness among farmworkers about how COVID-19 spreads and how to prevent getting infected, and routinely remind them about biosafety and biosecurity measures against COVID-19 on the farm.

Recommendations for animal health professionals:

• Contact suppliers (of veterinary drugs and consumables) and professional services (diagnostic laboratories) with respect to availability and possible delay in delivery. Where lockdown or curfew is in place, apply for the exemption for essential businesses as several countries include animal health activities in the essential business category.

• Manage the essential consumables you have in stock, including syringes, tubes, disinfectants and PPE.

• Be familiar with the correct disinfection procedure of reusable veterinary equipment such as needles, syringes and surgical instruments.

• Consider reviewing and refreshing existing management, preventive & diagnostic techniques.

• Maintain open communication with livestock farmers. Request both farmers and markets to continue reporting disease outbreaks and animal deaths to veterinary offices even when lockdown or curfew is in place.

• Advise farmers on good livestock husbandry practices to mitigate the risk of disease outbreaks on farms.

• Assist in contingency planning for livestock production, livestock markets and processing facilities.

Recommendations for animal product processing plants, live animal markets and related supply chains:

• Stagger workers entering/leaving the premises.

• Stagger mealtimes and break times to avoid large gatherings in break rooms and dining rooms.

• Consider screening individual temperatures and typical COVID-19 symptoms before entering the facilities.

• Provide guidance to clean and disinfect the work environment before and after shifts, including shared spaces, employee break rooms, dining rooms, sleeping quarters.

Recommendations for policymakers at national level:

• Develop, endorse and implement policies to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on livestock production and value chains by ensuring availability and flow of the normal inputs and outputs for livestock production, reviewing and adopting existing biosafety and biosecurity measures, including veterinary services as essential businesses and ensuring a functioning supply chain of livestock and animal products.

• Develop and disseminate information materials and collaborate with partners to organize outreach activities, in order to sensitize livestock production and animal health stakeholders.

• Develop a series of communication materials and widely distribute through media, field staff and other communication channels, with the advice of stakeholders.

• Strengthen coordination and collaboration among all relevant sectors including the transport industry, markets and media, to assist the flow of information from reliable
sources and help stabilize the availability and price of basic food and reduce the disruption of livestock production and animal disease control and prevention.

• Prioritize animal diseases, in consultation with the field veterinarians and other key stakeholders to support maintenance of essential monitoring, prevention and control programmes.

• Continue monitoring, prevention and control of transboundary animal diseases by maintaining surveillance, outbreak investigation, laboratory diagnosis and early response capacities.

• Review and update biosecurity and biosafety requirements and disseminate them widely to farmers, livestock and live animal markets, slaughterhouses and animal health professionals.