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

Barker (2013) observes that there are three main categories of interspecies relations that attract biosecurity intervention (e.g., the practices of exclusion, eradication or manage­ment). These categories are:

  1. Pests and diseases affecting indigenous flora and fauna. New Zealand examples in this category include kauri dieback and myrtle rust diseases.
  2. Communicable diseases impacting on human health, such as measles and COVID-19.
  3. Diseases compromising economic security, often relating to the primary sector. New Zealand examples in this category include the cattle disease mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) and the kiwifruit disease pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae.26

As is clear from the examples above, New Zealand has either dealt with or is currently dealing with problematic life in each of Barker’s three biosecurity categories. However, as will be seen, New Zealand’s biosecurity narrative primarily focusses on economic safety from agricultural and horticultural pests and diseases, and the category of en­vironmental protection. COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity to start having a different kind of biosecurity conversation – one in which the risks associated with, and implications arising from, animal-human connections are openly discussed and eval­uated in all New Zealand communities. The world needs to be better prepared for the next pandemic, and given that most communicable diseases of pandemic proportions are zoonotic, discussing interspecies relations is a biosecurity imperative.27

Human and animal diseases

Disease is prevented, prepared for and managed in more than social sites of biosecurity for healthy human and animal outcomes. Harris Ali and Keil (2008) argue that viruses are capable of ‘folding’ space and time, because of the ways in which they can seemingly transmit across countries’ borders in non-linear ways.28 Here we see nature’s adaptability in the context of not only the more than social, but the global, where time and space are no longer separate entities, and where ‘time-space’ cannot be relied on to perform in a straight-forward manner.29 A globally connected world means that temporal and spatial tracing techniques alone have become unreliable measures of safety from the spread of infectious diseases, so our concepts of proximity and distance need to be framed as non-linear flows and folds.30 To assist with this reframing, Hinchliffe et al., (2013) imagine disease as continuously absent and present, as opposed to being part of a binary system of alternatively absent or present.31 If we consider biosecurity risk in this non-binary light, we can see how the health/disease of species of all kinds is continuously and contemporaneously folded together, cohabiting at sites of problematisation.32

Hinchliffe et al., (2013) observe that agricultural biosecurity still predominantly con­cerns itself with the statistical ‘mapping’ or spatio-temporal ‘tracing’ of populations – the management of disease being based largely on past events and movements, which