Reframing New Zealand’s Biosecurity Conversation Post-Covid-19: An Argument for Integrating Interspecies Concerns

Author: McDonald, D. A.
Published in National Security Journal, 24 August 2020


1 The term ‘black swan’ event was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe unpredictable and rare events that create disproportionately severe impacts on humans, economies or environments. See Nassim Nicolas Taleb, The Black Swan (New York: Random House, 2007). The New Yorker magazine recently interviewed Taleb about COVID-19, and during the interview Taleb said that COVID-19 was not a black swan event, because the outbreak was predictable and should have been expected. Bernard Avishai, “The Pandemic Isn’t a Black Swan but a Portent of a More Fragile Global System”, The New Yorker, 21 April 2020,

2 The World Health Organisation website on pandemic planning and preparedness shows, for ex­ample, that the Organisation has been concerned about emerging global influenza pandemics since the 1950s. See the World Health Organisation, In addition, One Health is a World Health Organisation initiative that takes a multidisciplinary approach to the preparation for and management of zoonotic diseases. See One Health,

3 See above, and the FAO’s Biosecurity Toolkit (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2007), The Biosecurity Toolkit explains the integrated and coordinated biosecurity approach to managing zoonotic diseases at an international level.

4 Kezia Barker. “Flexible Boundaries in Biosecurity: Accommodating Gorse in Aotearoa New Zea­land.” Environment and Planning A, 40, no. 7 (2008): 1598-1614.

5 See for example the ‘Five Strategic Directions’ set out in the policy document titled Biosecurity 2025: Direction Statement for New Zealand’s Biosecurity System (Wellington: Ministry for Primary Industries, 2016),­ment-for-new-zealands-biosecurity-system.

6 The New Zealand Government, last modified 23 July 2020,­sources/posters/

7 The Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 website provides resources for community education, such as ‘stay home’ and ‘clean and disinfect’ posters. These are biosecurity messages, but they are targeting human health for the purpose of eliminating a disease of pandemic proportions. See Ministry of Health, last updated 27 July 2020,­el-coronavirus. There has been no community messaging from the Ministry of Health or the Ministry for Primary Industries about zoonotic disease spread, good animal husbandry or hygiene practices, bios­ecurity for hunters or animal-human relations. Perhaps the reason is because the outbreak has already occurred, but it will be interesting to see if there are proactive communications post-COVID-19 about the ever-present risk of zoonotic diseases.

8 The global influenza pandemic of 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people, including 9,000 in New Zealand. See and See also John More­mon, “Opinion: History’s Pandemics Lost on the Young.” Massey University, last updated 20 March 2020,

9 Ibid.

10 Information about the high-profile whey protein concentrate incident can be found here:­cident/. New Zealand’s measles epidemic of 2019 was discussed by the media and by human health professionals as a human disease, though measles is actually a disease with zoonotic origins (Jonathan Ball, “Could Relatives of Measles Virus Jump from Animals to Us?”, 1 January 2020,

11 The WPC80 Incident: Causes and Responses. Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concen­trate Contamination Incident (Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs, November 2014),$file/Govern­ment-Whey-Inquiry-Report-November-2014.PDF.

12 National Security System Handbook (Wellington: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2016), p. 7.

13 New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Plan: A Framework for Action (Wellington: Ministry of Health, 2017). See also the Memorandum of Understanding on Biosecurity Activities between Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Department of Conservation, Ministry of Fisheries, and Ministry of Health (Wellington, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2006),