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Factors affecting livestock disease reporting and biosecurity practices: a study of West Australian sheep and cattle producers

Palmer, Sarah (2009) Factors affecting livestock disease reporting and biosecurity practices: a study of West Australian sheep and cattle producers. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Australia has become increasingly vulnerable to infectious animal diseases as a result of globalisation. Consequently, biosecurity – the protection of animals from pests and diseases - has become a key concern of government. Livestock producers play a vital part in farm biosecurity and surveillance, but there has been limited research into farmer behaviour and motives in regard to animal health. Preliminary research in Western Australia indicated that the level of official reporting of livestock illness and deaths by farmers is in decline. This study investigates the prevalence and cause of this, examining in particular the factors that influence the decision to consult a veterinarian. Perspectives of sheep and cattle farmers in part of Western Australia were gathered via a quantitative study (postal questionnaire) and a qualitative study (in-depth face-to-face interviews). Human health behaviour models developed within social psychology informed the study design. Analysis and discussion of farmers' understanding of science and innovation draws on the work of Wynne and Fischer in particular, with Vanclay, Lawrence and various commentators on agricultural extension providing the Australian context. Within the broader theoretical framework of risk, uncertainty and trust, the thesis draws on theorists from sociology (such as Beck) and psychology (for example, Slovic). The study found that while many farmers were well-informed about biosecurity, this did not necessarily translate into better practices (as defined by agricultural experts). While official bodies propound a scientific, technically rational argument as a means of encouraging farmers to adopt on-farm biosecurity practices, farmers employ a rationality which takes account of the social, cultural and economic context. Farmers were seen to be making a reporting decision based on the perceived risk to their enterprise. Four influential elements of perceived risk were: perceived susceptibility, self-efficacy, perceived control and trust. A distinction was drawn between routine reporting, where trust in the government and expertise was a critical factor, and reporting in suspicious circumstances, where moral obligation played a key role. If farmers are hesitant to trust government sources, important animal health messages may go unheeded. Strategies for building trust between farmers and government bodies will require further investigation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Fozdar, Farida and Sully, Max
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