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

pests and diseases to the economy, environment and human health.”53 A quick com­parison shows that the definition has evolved over time to include ‘cultural and social values’.

New Zealand’s biosecurity system developed largely as a result of the country’s move to embrace tariff-free trade for agricultural products.54 The Biosecurity Act 1993 was consequently enacted to protect animal product exports, resulting in New Zealand becoming the first country in the world to use the term ‘biosecurity’ in relation to animal health.55 Trampusch (2014) observes that “[t]he government therefore armed the agricultural sector to benefit fully from consumer markets worldwide by protecting its agricultural producers from pests and diseases.”56 Securing indigenous flora and fauna from biological harm (Barker’s first biosecurity category) has been another key biosecurity priority for New Zealand. Biosecurity is concerned with the safety and security of the natural environment because of the ecosystem services that support the country’s primary product exports and because the natural environment supports people’s cultural and social values and their way of life.57 The protection of environmental and economic security is discussed in more depth below.

As mentioned earlier, biosecurity concerns falling into Barker’s second category of communicable diseases impacting on human health have mostly presented in New Zealand as food safety and/or trade issues. New Zealand has been in an enviable posi­tion where national biosecurity issues have not needed to focus on zoonotic diseases or human pandemics. COVID-19, being both zoonotic and able to spread easily from human to human, should mark a significant shift in the way biosecurity is understood and discussed by New Zealanders from now on. Before turning to explore some of the implications of COVID-19 for New Zealand’s biosecurity conversations, let us consider each of biosecurity’s stated objectives. These four objectives inform us about localised sites of biosecurity in New Zealand, and help us to imagine the likely intersection of COVID-19 with all areas of biosecurity concern.

Environmental and economic security

Primary products (agricultural, horticultural, forestry and fishing) comprise over half of New Zealand’s total exports.58 Primary sector exports earned New Zealand over NZ$46 billion in the twelve months prior to June 2019, and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic this figure was forecast to reach nearly NZ$48 billion by June 2020.59 As at December 2019, dairy export revenue alone was expected to reach NZ$19.6 billion for the year ending June 2020, and meat and wool exports were forecast to reach NZ$10.4 billion for the same period.60 COVID-19 has caused significant trade and supply-chain disruption, which has highlighted the existing risks relating to exporting primary products.61 Unexpectedly, a recent Economic Update for the Primary Industries report shows that revenue from primary products exports is actually NZ$1.7 billion higher than for the same period in 2019.62 However, these revenue gains are being buoyed