The broad scope - and complexity - of biosecurity is reflected in the myriad of international agreements, "soft" laws and intergovernmental bodies created to address it. In fact, says an FAO report to its Committee on Agriculture, the international policy and regulatory framework for biosecurity is "disjointed and incomplete". The report recommends a global approach to the issue, and calls for technical assistance to help developing countries establish, rationalize and optimize their national capacity for biosecurity.
SPS and CBD. The need for biosecurity in food and agriculture has intensified with economic globalization, rapid improvements in communications, transport and trade, technological progress, and increased awareness of biodiversity and the environment. Internationally, the most comprehensive coverage of the issue is provided in the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (or SPS Agreement). In environmental agreements - notably the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) - countries have agreed to take measures to protect biodiversity, and the CBD's Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, adopted in January 2000, provides an international regulatory framework for the transboundary movement of living modified organisms (LMOs). Countries have agreed to cooperate, through Codex Alimentarius, the International Plant Protection Convention and the International Office of Epizootics, to protect human, plant and animal health, respectively.
The FAO report notes that "most international instruments deal with aspects of biosecurity from distinctly sectoral perspectives, whether this be disarmament, biological diversity, wetland protection, plant, animal or human health, marine resources management, nature conservation or concern with the introduction of genetically modified organisms or invasive alien species and genotypes." The SPS Agreement, which provides disciplines for the application of sanitary, phytosanitary and zoosanitary measures together, "does so predominantly from the point of view of their impact on trade, rather than their own intrinsic effectiveness".
Australia and New Zealand were among the first countries to establish national programmes on biosecurity. The New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry established a Biosecurity Authority in July 1999 to "protect New Zealand's unique biodiversity and facilitate exports by managing risks to plant and animal health and animal welfare". Australia's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry established its Biosecurity group in October 2000 to assess quarantine risks associated with commodity imports and conduct technical negotiations on export market access issues with overseas counterpart agencies.
The primary aim of a more coordinated international regulatory framework - taking into account agricultural sustainability, trade issues, food security, and environmental protection and conservation - would be to avoid duplication and inconsistencies among the various international and regional organizations and instruments. At national level, a similar rationalization is needed. Despite trends toward greater coordination, national authority for biosecurity matters is still scattered over a variety of ministries - typically agriculture, health, environment, forestry, fisheries, and trade and industry. There may be a particular need, FAO says, for technical assistance to developing countries, both in the implementation of national controls and negotiation of instruments at the international level.
Risk analysis. The FAO report proposes a series of measures for COAG's consideration. Among them are closer cooperation with other international organizations and secretariats of international agreements in development of common methodologies (particularly for risk-analysis), international standards, and integrated management and monitoring methodologies. Another suggestion is creation of a "biosecurity information exchange system" that would draw on official information available from individual countries, FAO own programmes on biosecurity, and other relevant international organizations and agreements.
To assist developing countries and countries with economies in transition, it proposes an international consultation on biosecurity in food and agriculture aimed at boosting overall awareness of the new concepts and opportunities in biosecurity, as well as development of manuals and guidelines on risk analysis in food safety, regional awareness and training sessions, and advice on policies, legislation and regulations.
Published March 2001