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

then becomes the basis for future predictions.33 Yet, practices of exclusion that have worked well in the past, for example to eradicate leprosy or contain small-pox, may not work equally well in the case of an advanced influenza pandemic. We need to allow space for each complex matrix of health/disease to ‘speak’34 because incursions and outbreaks provide an opportunity to better understand the nature of emergence.35

Each human body is situated within and influenced by a network of other organisms, including diseases that can transmit from animals (including malaria and dengue fever from insects) to humans.36 Global pandemics such as COVID-19, the H5N1 virus (avian flu) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) each demonstrate that individual bodies are part of and are affected by biological networks.37 These networks consist of humans, animals, markets, viruses, transport, hotels and workplaces.38 Braun says that while it may seem strange to conceptualise human and animal bodies as interconnected, it makes perfect sense in the context of the folds of disease in pandemics. In the case of SARS, for example, some of these situational networks included live animal markets, hotels, aeroplanes, hospitals, Toronto’s city streets, and its busy cafes.39 Somewhat paradoxically, the hotspots of disease spread are close connections as well as divergent movements. An agricultural example of the interspecies nature of biosecurity is New Zealand’s M. bovis outbreak. Mycoplasma bovis demonstrates that cattle are part of a biological network consisting of other cattle, humans, science, veterinary medicines, meat-works, milking machines and the M. bovis bacterium itself.40 These are all sites of problematisation, and for disease management purposes it is important to remember that each animal and human body exists in this space and in this time and under these conditions.41

The issue of how humans interact with and relate to animals may well be one of the biggest security challenges we face in the twenty-first century.42 Clark (2013) says that the transformative power of unwanted biological life such as pests, bacteria and viruses has emerged in recent times as a global political issue.43 Yet, perhaps our risks have not necessarily increased with respect to zoonotic diseases: we have always lived with ani­mals, whether they be wild, farmed or domesticated:

[Animals] have continuously circulated through [social] spaces, in the form of dairy products, meats, clothing, even pharmaceuticals, not to mention waste and viscera. They have surrounded us as house pets, ro­dents, birds, foxes, and feral cats. And they have formed complex human–animal assemblages, at times aided by insects, viruses, and bacteria that trace lines of connection between them all.44

The modern twist is that humans have created complex, time-sensitive supply chains, making all humans and animals ‘touch’ more than ever before, and this virtually en­sures that novel transmissible diseases can multiply on an exponential basis.45 One ob­vious challenge for securing biological life of all kinds has always been how to support