Consider farmers at the individual level when controlling outbreaks of livestock diseases, say researchers

New research has shown that infection control in livestock could be more effective with policies that incorporate the actions of individual farmers.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham and Warwick have used behavior and mathematical modeling to examine the optimal response that farmers and policy makers should follow to reduce current costs and protect both individual farms and the wider agricultural industry. The results have been published today in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.

This research is the latest from the BBSRC-funded Farmer-led Epidemic and Endemic Disease Management (FEED) project, an interdisciplinary research group that includes epidemiologists, mathematical modelers, behavioral researchers and veterinarians from the universities of Warwick and Nottingham.

Using sophisticated mathematical models, researchers at Warwick’s Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology and Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research (SBIDER) and from the University of Nottingham have investigated the optimal behavior each farmer can follow during a disease outbreak, which can help them not only reduce their own immediate costs, but also to slow the spread of infection and reduce losses for the entire industry.

The research team simulated livestock disease outbreaks in several different scenarios and found out how the best results could be achieved – from both government politicians who want to protect the broader livestock industry, and from farmers who have businesses and animals to protect.

In their models, the researchers analyzed representative livestock systems in the English counties of Devon and Cumbria, looking at the results of various potential disease outbreaks and the actions that farmers can take, for example by vaccinating animals as a precautionary measure; as a reaction; or not vaccinate at all.

the researchers found that what a single farmer considers to be the most effective way to reduce the risk of infection in their own livestock may not have the same benefit for other farmers.

This paper really highlights the importance of considering and integrating the role of individual behavior when modeling the effect of policies to deal with infection. Such interdisciplinary approaches benefit both science and society.

The researchers found, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, how crucial individual behavior is to control the spread of a contagious disease in a human population, during a livestock infection, the response of each farmer could be crucial to protect animal welfare nationally and keep the agricultural industry is flowing.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that the actions of individual farmers should be considered in any major policy framework to tackle future outbreaks of livestock diseases.

Dr. Ed Hill of the University of Warwick is the corresponding author on paper, said: “Our analysis of policies for combating infectious diseases in domestic animals, under different social perspectives on vaccination behavior, may indicate for those who develop a veterinary health policy, the nature of control measures , which is optimal from both the industry and the individual farmer level. “

Co-author Professor Michael Tildesley of the University of Warwick commented: “Going forward, we want to build strong links between the data collected on farmers’ beliefs and the structure of models that contain both disease spread and behavioral dynamics. To ensure that the data used are so reliable and accurate as possible, enhances the informative capabilities and robustness of model output. “

Professor Matt Keeling of the University of Warwick said: “Most models of livestock diseases treat farmers as obeying government rules without question or simply behaving to maximize their own profits. The FEED project adds far greater realism by understanding the various factors that drives farmers’ behavior in the face of a new disease. “

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