Covid-19 has shown that it is time for a holistic approach to biosecurity, says esteemed Professor Philip Hulme.

“The world is seeing a global increase in the number of emerging alien species, including insect pests, harmful weeds and diseases affecting plants, animals and humans,” said Biosafety expert Hulme.

There was no effective international regulation that addressed these threats, and as a result, these species presented a significant challenge to biosecurity measures around the world, Hulme said.

In a new article in the journal BioScience, Hulme discusses the challenges of taking a “piecemeal” approach to biosafety and outlines key steps to remedy the situation.

He called for One Biosecurity, a concept that combines all the different biosecurity issues into a policy-relevant implementation plan.

This new approach would address threats to human, animal, plant and environmental health while recognizing that disease or invasions in one sector often spill over into the other, Hulme said.

The factors that led to pandemics that threatened human, animal, plant or environmental health had many parallels. These included climate change, the intensification of agriculture, trade and human migration, increased urbanization and the loss of expertise, Hulme said.

It is important to understand the pandemic threat from invasive species, and not just the national threat, Hulme said.

It is also time the global biosecurity system moved away from protecting individual countries from invasive alien species and preventing the deliberate or accidental export of emerging threats from their country of origin, Hulme said.

There were three interconnected initiatives that appeared “essential” to addressing pandemic risks from biological invasions, Hulme said.

• An improved approach to risk assessment targeting global pandemic risk across national borders.

• A stronger regulatory tool to combat biosecurity threats around the world.

• Establishment of an overarching organization responsible for international biosecurity governance.

However, New Zealand didn’t have to wait for a global deal to introduce a more holistic biosecurity system at the national level, Hulme said.

“Without multilateral support, nation states like New Zealand and Australia, which already have strict biosecurity regulations, could lead the way in developing national One Biosecurity frameworks that, if successful, could lead other nations to follow suit.”

“Time will tell how feasible these options could be, but hopefully it won’t take another global pandemic for the logic of One Biosecurity to materialize.”

• Read “Progressing Biosecurity to Address Pandemic Risks of Biological Invasions” by Professor Philip Hulme in BioScience.

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