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

fauna. Williamson’s (1996) ‘tens rule’, for example, highlights that one in ten introduced species will successfully escape into the wild, one out of ten that escape will become established, and one out of ten that become established will become a pest.75 Moreover, New Zealand’s own definition of biosecurity acknowledges that only introduced life that poses a risk of harm is to be subjected to biosecurity management. Destructive biological behaviour cannot be conflated with the social construct of ‘belonging’, be­cause a species’ status as exotic or alien is no prediction of its invasive, or indeed of its beneficial, qualities.76

The ‘belonging’ line of inquiry becomes even more problematic when the geopolitical question inevitably arises as to what point in time human populations are considered to legitimately ‘belong’ in any place, including in New Zealand.77 Any xenophobia that might have existed previously around the world has been highlighted with the advent of COVID-19. In New Zealand, there have been reports of overt racism towards peo­ple of Asian lineage in public places as well as free-flowing nationalistic sentiments when it comes to closing the border to returning New Zealand citizens or residents with non-European heritage.78 This racial tension is also bound up with belonging; who and what is considered to belong is linked to a country’s cultural and social values. Adding a pandemic into the equation, with its consequential economic hardship, social depri­vation and restrictions on the freedom of movement brings societal issues of privilege and inequality to the fore.

There is a further cultural dimension of biosecurity that deserves a mention. New Zealand is a country with a strong hunting and fishing culture, and hunting wild animals exposes humans to any diseases that they may carry. Feral pigs and ducks, in particular, are known to carry diseases that can pass to humans.79 Moreover, New Zealand provides an important stop for migrating birds, which also carry diseases collected from other shores.80 All avian species, including poultry, harbour diseases that can spill over into humans through contact and/or food preparation practices. The New Zealand Pandemic Plan acknowledges this connection when it states that MPI’s role in pandemic planning and response includes investigating sick animals, preparing technical information about animal influenzas, and creating import health standards as a preventative measure for influenza in imported animal material.81 However, our biosecurity conversations do not tend to include safe practices around zoonotic diseases and wild animals, even though this is a risk area for New Zealanders (as recognised by the Biosecurity 2025 Workplan) that requires community education and discussion.

Human health security

At the time of writing, more than 600,000 people world-wide have died from the COVID-19 virus, including 22 people in New Zealand.82 A vaccine for COVID-19 seems likely, but there remains uncertainty within the scientific community about the extent of any immunity conferred and how long that immunity would last in indi­viduals.83