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

by the falling New Zealand dollar, without which export revenue would have instead dropped by 1.2 percent.63 It remains to be seen what the international trade landscape will look like in twelve months from now, but MPI predicts that economic activity will take years to fully recover from COVID-19 due to a range of factors, including a change in consumer behaviours, social distancing requirements continuing in many countries and decreased airfreight capacity to transport high value, fresh products.64

In recent years, tourism had rivalled agricultural exports as an important economic contributor, with the tourist dollar exceeding the export value of dairy products in 2019.65 Before COVID-19, annual tourist numbers were predicted to increase to four and a half million by the year 2022.66 Now, however, our borders remain closed to trav­ellers, Air New Zealand and other airlines have announced staff redundancies and have limited their flights, and most tourism operators are struggling to keep staff employed.67 At the time of writing, there is no indication as to when non-New Zealand citizens or permanent residents will be able to return to this country. COVID-19’s impact will con­tinue to be harshly felt in all of the areas of biosecurity concern, not solely in the areas of human health and the national economy – although these impacts have been severe.68 New Zealand’s reliance on tourism and the primary sector makes it particularly vulner­able when those flows suddenly dry up.69 A key biosecurity message must be that the smallest virus can be as deadly and destructive to the ways of life of people as are acts of traditional warfare in this more than social world.

Ironically, one of the growing pressures on New Zealand’s natural environment has been the increasing number of international travellers, so there is perhaps a silver-lining for the environment at this time.70 The very border flows that sustain us economically also create additional environmental and human health risks.71 Conversely, stopping the human flows and disrupting trade creates its own set of economic, social and possibly environmental risks. The tourism levy, for example, has stopped with the flow of travellers, and this levy helps fund pest-control, breeding programmes, national parks and reserves.72 Biosecurity’s objectives are linked by complex domino-like formations, which means that there will be consequences arising from insecurity in one area for the others, but we do not always know how the dominos are linked or in which direction they will fall.

Cultural and social security

Tassin and Kull (2015) consider cultural and social values to be “inextricable from the science and management of invasions”73 because how humans construct nature and the types of nature we collectively value are integral to biosecurity policy and practice. In New Zealand, both indigenous and/or exotic flora and fauna are valued – the former for its biodiversity, endemicity and cultural value for Māori,74 and the latter for eco­nomic imperatives. In New Zealand, we also know that not all accidentally introduced species are problematic for the biological security of indigenous and exotic flora and