`Biosecurity' in food and agriculture describes the concept and process of managing biological risks associated with food and agriculture (in its broadest sense, i.e. including forestry). Biosecurity is emerging as one of the most important issues facing the international community. There is a growing need for countries to establish biosecurity systems, either to meet obligations under international agreements (for example, in the environmental sector) or to take advantage of opportunities (for example, in the trade sector).
In the forestry sector, biosecurity encompasses three main fields of activity: forest protection and phytosanitary issues; naturalization of introduced forestry trees and their impact on ecosystems or individual species; and the release of new genotypes, including genetically modified organisms.
`Pests' are defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as any species, strain or biotype of plant, animal or pathogenic agent injurious to plants or plant products, i.e. insects, mites, molluscs, nematodes, diseases and weeds. Indigenous pests may be chronic or occur in outbreaks, whereas introduced pests usually occur in an initial outbreak followed by continuous chronic damage. Both types of pest can cause severe losses, making them important factors in forestry.
Tropical and subtropical plantation forestry has often focused on a small number of fast-growing, pioneer species, normally planted as pure stands. Monocultures, especially of genetically similar trees, are associated with an increased probability of pest outbreaks and can also transform sporadic pests into permanent problems. Mixed planting of native (and exotic) trees is therefore increasingly preferred as a strategy for avoiding pest problems. Pest risks associated with a particular tree/location combination should be evaluated prior to planting and the results confirmed with test plots.
There is a growing trend towards adopting more sustainable management strategies for forest pests, particularly in developed countries. These changes are related to changes in the perception of the role of the forest, which is increasingly valued not just for economic reasons, but also for its ecological and social functions. Large monocultures are disappearing from many European and North American landscapes and are being replaced by smaller, mixed stands, which reduce pest risks as mentioned above.
Analysing and evaluating pest risk requires reliable information. As might be expected, more information is available on pests of trees grown in developed rather than in developing countries, and also for pests of trees grown in plantations rather than for pests in natural forests. Virtually nothing is known of the pests associated with those trees harvested from natural forests and not grown in plantations, at least in the tropics. There is an urgent need for surveys and identification of the pests and diseases associated with many important tropical timber trees, in both natural and plantation situations.
Alien invasive species
Alien species can be particularly damaging during plantation establishment, but can also have important impacts on forest biological diversity, especially in the tropics. An increasing number of accidental introductions can be expected as a result of the growing internationalization of trade, the increased movement of people and the resultant overstretching of quarantine services.
Some forest and agroforestry trees have the potential to become invasive when grown as exotics, particularly in the tropics, but it is difficult to predict which alien species are likely to cause serious damage if introduced. Species that are innocuous or minor pests in their area of origin can be devastating when introduced elsewhere. At present, the best guide to potential invasiveness is those species that have already caused problems when introduced into another part of the world. Thus, access to reliable information is critically important for assessing this risk. Studies are needed to determine why introduced trees become naturalized or invasive, and protocols for assessing the risks of introductions must be developed and validated. Pilot planting schemes should include monitoring for any indications of invasiveness. Safer options for introductions (e.g. sterile trees) may also be useful.
The longer an alien species remains undetected after its introduction, the less chance there is for successful intervention: there are fewer options for its eradication, containment or control, and the costs of intervention rise. Often the key to a successful and cost-effective solution is eradication, but this requires both early detection of an alien species and a rapid response. Once eradication is no longer feasible, the options for control of an alien species include biological control by the introduction of exotic natural enemies from the pest's area of origin. However, this approach should always be based on an appropriate risk assessment and risk-benefit analysis, following international protocols.
Invasive tree species tend to be multisectoral in their impact, and thus need to be addressed with a multisectoral approach. In some cases invasive trees provide useful products or services and, when eradication is not possible, management options should be identified in order to balance the positive and negative aspects.
The introduction of new tree genotypes could potentially have adverse impacts, e.g. through the displacement of indigenous taxa or genotypes, or the transfer of genes (leading to local evolution, hybridization and introgression), with the resultant development of new taxa with novel ecological characteristics. However, as yet, there are few records of such impacts in the forestry sector. Introductions of other species associated with forestry, including biological control organisms, pollinators, mycorrhizae, etc., should be considered with caution and on a case-by-case basis.
The development of genetic modification has created new challenges in risk assessment. Although the first generation of GM products was not particularly relevant to forestry, there are numerous ways in which the technology could be used in forestry, and research in the field is extremely active. There seems to be considerable potential for improving forest trees by developing new genotypes with useful biological traits. However, assessing risks in long-term crops such as forest trees is difficult, and uptake of GM technology is likely to be slow unless protocols that reliably assess the risks are developed, tested, and agreed upon.
Managing biosecurity issues
Forestry activities can contribute to the introduction of alien species in several ways, including the movement of forest reproductive materials and germplasm, solid wood packaging materials, trade in unprocessed timber, and contaminants of forest produce. The forestry sector needs to work with other relevant sectors to prioritize the risks associated with these various activities and to find ways of addressing them.
In establishing the objectives of a biosecurity programme, it is critically important to consider the full range of stakeholders and their various interests in order to identify areas where cooperation is necessary and where synergies and efficiencies may be sought. In doing so, the whole regulatory cycle and the full range of players must be considered. Several groups may need to contribute to the definition of objectives and to the assessment of risks. Raising awareness, training and capacity building should therefore be important components of any biosecurity programme.
Biosecurity is a relatively new concept and its meaning is still evolving: usage varies among different countries and even among different specialist groups. It also presents difficulties when translated into other languages, for example, in Spanish `biosecurity' and `biosafety' cannot be distinguished, while in French biosafety (`biosÚcuritÚ') is used as the definition for the transboundary movement of living modified organisms under the Cartegena Protocol1. To add to the confusion, biosecurity has also been used to describe the organized response to bioterrorism.
Despite these ambiguities, some countries have established biosecurity policies. New Zealand passed a Biosecurity Act in 1993 and established a Biosecurity Minister and Council in 1999 to manage risks posed to the economy, environment and people's health by the movement of various organisms. Similarly, Biosecurity Australia, located within the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, deals with risks pertaining to the import of animals, plants and their products.
Broadly speaking, `biosecurity' in food and agriculture describes the concept and process of managing - in a holistic manner - biological risks associated with food and agriculture (in the broadest sense, i.e. including agronomy, livestock husbandry, forestry, fisheries and related environmental aspects). This usage also implies that transboundary movements or the use of novel genotypes are involved in some way.
A separate, though related, concept is `biosafety', which, as developed for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, is used specifically in relation to the release and transboundary movement of living modified organisms (LMOs). In one sense, therefore, biosafety is more limited in scope than biosecurity (since it refers only to LMOs), but in another sense it is broader, since it also encompasses the use of LMOs in medicine. Biosecurity in food and agriculture must be developed in harmony with the provisions of the Cartagena Protocol, while keeping these differences in mind.
The FAO Expert Consultation on Biosecurity (September 2002) discussed terminology and concluded that the phrase `biosecurity in food and agriculture' best describes the concept as used by FAO and was unable to identify a satisfactory alternative (FAO 2003a).
The FAO has outlined the scope of biosecurity as follows:
"Biosecurity is composed of three sectors, namely, food safety, plant life and health, and animal life and health. These sectors include food production in relation to food safety, the introduction of plant pests, animal pests and diseases, and zoonoses, the introduction and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their products, and the introduction and safe management of invasive alien species and genotypes. Biosecurity thus has direct relevance to food safety, the conservation of the environment (including biodiversity) and sustainability of agriculture." (FAO 2001).
The aspects considered relevant to the forestry sector are:
Biosecurity in forestry seeks to identify, prevent and remedy harm in specific sectors. In this context, it may be worthwhile highlighting the differences between harm and risk: `harm' is the damage done by something that might have been prevented through biosecurity, whereas `risk' is the chance of that harm occurring. Where risk is involved, there can never be absolute protection or certainty. The aim should be to optimize possible benefits while minimizing the risk posed by exposure to a potential hazard. This inevitably involves financial, ethical and technical factors. Public perception is also of great importance, and facilitating public understanding of risk is not easy. Often, the public demands a level of risk protection that is difficult to justify on technical or economic grounds, while a perceived failure of biosecurity can destroy public confidence in the whole concept.
The decision to initiate and implement a biosecurity regime is often based on the concern that a known problem (such as the introduction of a forestry pest) may reoccur. However, there is also an increasing perception that the use and products of new technologies need to be regulated, particularly in view of the speed and power of technological advances, and their associated uncertainties (transgenic crops are a good example).
The geographical scope of biosecurity measures should also be considered. While most national food and agriculture biosecurity structures have been established on an ad hoc basis, many countries are increasingly establishing regulatory frameworks that aim to protect global common goods and to respond to increasingly globalized risks, either to meet obligations under international agreements (for example, in relation to health, food safety, pest control, zoonoses and bioterrorism) or to take advantage of trade opportunities (for example, through the World Trade Organization Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement (WTO SPS)).
No country can afford to ignore transboundary risks, which can have catastrophic implications for human well-being, the environment and the economy. A biosecurity failure in one country will often cause problems in neighbouring countries, particularly where shared terrestrial boundaries are not protected by natural ecological barriers. In this context, regional coordination and mutual support could have very substantial advantages. Some examples of the economic consequences of failures in biosecurity systems are given in the case studies.
Subnational boundaries (based on geographical and ecological features) may also be highly significant, particularly in those countries that include islands or island groups. Biosecurity systems should also be developed to protect these boundaries. For example, the Hawaiian Islands have one of the highest invasion rates of alien organisms amongst oceanic islands; while there are legal barriers to slow down the rate of movement of organisms between mainland USA and these islands, they are comparatively ineffective: the postal system, for example, is not subject to inspection without a warrant. Similarly, the majority of invasive alien species arriving in the Galapagos Islands come from mainland Ecuador without crossing national boundaries. Even within a single conterminous country, movement of organisms can be very important, e.g. between the east and west coasts of Australia or the USA. At present, for example, one of the highest profile pest species in the USA is the glassy-winged sharpshooter (Homalodisca coagulata (Say); Cicadellidae), a pest of vines which has managed to spread from Florida (where it is indigenous) to California, where it is threatening the wine and table grape industry.
These examples show that, in most cases, biosecurity should be considered to be both national and international in scope.
It is clear, therefore, that implementing biosecurity can involve a number of integrated activities at regional and national levels, including:
Biosecurity is emerging as one of the most important issues facing the international community, for a number of reasons:
Two main factors have increased the perceived threat of these hazards, namely the increased global movement of biological materials and the rapid development of technologies associated with genetic modification. Over the past few decades, for example, the steady decline in the relative cost of transport, coupled with trade liberalization, have resulted in much wider movement of people, plants, animals and their products (including seed and reproductive material) than has previously been the case. This has severely strained the ability of quarantine and inspection services to prevent the unwanted introduction of alien species and genotypes of both plants and animals. Meeting this ever-expanding challenge will require cooperation across sectors, with optimal use of existing agencies and agreements. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), for example, recognized the need to "prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species" (CBD 2000). In relation to plant health and movement, the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is the most important international agreement. Ideally, to achieve their individual aims, the CBD and IPPC should be applied in parallel in a cooperative manner. This type of cross-sectoral collaboration exemplifies the way in which biosecurity should develop.
As mentioned above, new technologies can also pose new potential risks to both human health and the environment, and as such require due consideration in any assessment of biosecurity. In this context, risk analysis is becoming increasingly important as a basis for regulatory decisions. Recognition of the risk implications of international trade in genetically modified organisms was the reason for the adoption of a new international agreement, namely the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, as part of the CBD.
1 The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a supplementary agreement to the Convention known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety on 29 January 2000, which came into force on 11 September 2003. The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. It establishes an advance informed agreement (AIA) procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of such organisms into their territory (see http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety/ ).