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

contract diseases directly from handling infected animals, then MPI is the lead agency.14 There are two key themes running through this article. The first is that COVID-19 has highlighted that our national biosecurity conversation tends to exclude interspecies health risks and the implications of these for securing all other areas of life. Secondly, human health security is bound up with animal health and biosecurity, including food safety, and it should be discussed in an interspecies context.

This article is written in two parts. The first part sets out the meaning of biosecurity and the purpose of its practices, relying on academic literature as well as New Zealand’s own public policy definition of the term. This part also explores the importance of ‘contexts’ for biosecurity management practices. Next, the article discusses the thorny issue of biological insecurity between humans and animals, with a particular focus on zoonotic diseases (those that transmit from animals to humans) of pandemic propor­tions.15 The second part of the article unpacks New Zealand’s biosecurity narrative by exploring some key public messaging related to biosecurity’s four stated objectives of environmental, economic, social and cultural and human health security. Part two then argues for a greater integration of human health into our national biosecurity con­versation. The article finishes with some concluding remarks about the opportunity for new biosecurity understandings arising from the recent ‘white swan’ COVID-19 pandemic.16



Biosecurity is a discipline consisting of a range of situated practices17 that are carried out for the purpose of protecting valued and valuable life.18 Clark (2013) colourfully describes biosecurity as an “attempt to protect established and valued life from emergent, transgressive and undesirable life.”19 Biosecurity is essentially concerned with how humans manage other species and organisms for our environmental, economic and/or social benefit – including protecting human health.20 Hinchliffe and Bingham (2008) use the verb ‘biosecuring’ to highlight what they call an “unfinished business”21 of securing wanted biological life from unwanted organisms. Collier, Lakoff and Rabinow (2004) describe biosecurity’s ongoing and situated practices as “site[s] of problematisation”.22 These sites of problematisation manifest in places such as farms, orchards, nature reserves, government departments, scientific laboratories and even the backyards of Grey Lynn residents.23 Braun (2008) reminds us that wherever biosecurity is practiced these sites will always involve human and non-human elements. Braun calls these biosecurity sites “more than ‘social”24 because humans, animals, plants, insects, bacteria and viruses continually interact to create mutable contexts for biosecurity actions.25