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Pandemic Exposes Fractured Global Biosecurity System

The world needs a new approach to biosecurity that can identify and deal with potential pandemics however they arise, says biosecurity expert Distinguished Professor Philip Hulme.

Dist Prof Hulme, of the Bio-Protection Research Centre, says COVID-19 has shown it’s time for a holistic approach to biosecurity that integrates threats to human, animal, plant and environmental health, recognising that disease or invasions in one sector often spill over into the others.

“The world is witnessing a global rise in the number of emerging alien species, including insect pests, noxious weeds as well as diseases of plants, animals and humans. Currently there is no effective international regulation that addresses all these threats and, as a result, these species pose a significant challenge to biosecurity interventions worldwide.

“Inward-looking policies that solely address human, animal, plant, or environmental health are no longer fit for purpose because of the significant cross-sector impacts of invasive alien species.”

As an example, due to its painful sting, the imported red fire ant causes significant impacts on human and livestock health, but it also directly destroys crops at the seedling stage and dramatically reduces the diversity of native invertebrates through predation. This species has been intercepted multiple times at the New Zealand border and if it established the impacts would be felt across numerous sectors.

“Similarly the factors driving pandemics that threaten human, animal, plant, or environmental health share many parallels and include climate change, increasing intensification of agriculture, trade and human migration, greater urbanisation and a loss of specialist expertise.

In a new paper in the leading journal BioScience (attached) Dist Prof Hulme discusses the challenges arising from a piecemeal approach to biosecurity and outlines key steps to remedy the situation. He calls for One Biosecurity, a concept that pulls together all the different threads of biosecurity into a policy relevant implementation plan.

Dist Prof Hulme says it is also time for the global biosecurity system to shift away from protecting individual countries from invasive alien species, towards preventing the deliberate or accidental export of emerging threats from their country of origin. Understanding the pandemic threat of invasive species, rather than just the national threat, will be important.

“Three inter-related initiatives would appear essential to deal with the pandemic risks from biological invasions: an improved approach to risk assessment that looks beyond national borders toward global pandemic risk; a stronger regulatory instrument to address biosecurity threats at a worldwide scale; and the establishment of an overarching organisation responsible for international biosecurity governance.”

However, New Zealand does not have to wait for global agreement to implement a more holistic biosecurity system nationally.

“In the absence of a multilateral support, nation states such as New Zealand and Australia that already have strong biosecurity regulations could lead the way in developing national One Biosecurity frameworks which, if successful, could catalyse other nations to follow suit.

“Time will tell how feasible these options might be, but hopefully it will not take another global pandemic for the logic of One Biosecurity to be realised.”

Hulme PE (2021) Advancing one biosecurity to address the pandemic risks of biological invasions. BioScience (in press) doi:10.1093/biosci/biab019

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