A Biosecurity guarantee attempts to ensure that ecologies sustaining either people or animals are maintained. This may include natural habitats as well as shelter and productive enterprise (especially agriculture) and deals with threats such as biological warfare or epidemics. This is related to the more passive concept of biosafety.
Political guarantees of health for persons or animals are necessarily controversial. Such guarantees can form part of almost any organisational means of survival, including of political and economic systems, military doctrine and insurance schemes. Challenges include the proliferation of biological threats, the difficulty of tracking contamination (especially if carried by the natural internal processes of an ecoregion), and numerous political barriers.
Differing concepts of biosecurity are evolving in many professions. So far the field has focused on attempts to establish uniform standards of risk referencing - see the biodiversity debate and health security . Nevertheless, many professional groups believe that their internal professional ethics and professional standards are sufficient to contain all relevant risks (which may be medical, agricultural and so on). This fact emphasises the difficulty in agreeing common standards - definitions and requirements depend on, among other things, national, ecological, military, diplomatic and professional concerns. Consensus holds that biosecurity is a government responsibility, but beyond that, mandates of various government agencies include:
the development of guidelines on equitable and fair access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources , the ethical implications of biotechnology, international governance of biotechnology and biosafety, including rule making under the World Trade Organization and other regimes
A sampling of current (2002) national and professional mandates include commitments of
- NZ agriculture and forestry "to protect New Zealand's unique biodiversity and facilitate exports by managing risks to plant and animal health and animal welfare" as one of several agencies in the Biocouncil "managing exotic pests (or recent incursions)". Critics, including the NZ Greens , argue that these measures are insufficient to protect even against normal crop risks.
- USDA and pork producers to protect food "animal health" via "cleansing and disinfecting", "personal protective equipment", "carcass disposal", "nutrient management" and monitoring of "reportable diseases". Medical emergency response measures, especially in the military, emphasize the same concerns - but with respect to humans.
- US scientific societies to redefine biosecurity largely in terms of "countering terrorism", and not in terms of addressing unintentional man-made threats.
Clearly, no single set of guarantees can be said to represent biosecurity - just as no such set of guarantees clearly characterizes national security or any other form of security.
Historically, as with other public safety, fairness, and closure concerns, a nation-state attempted to assure biosecurity by tax, trade, tariff and active biodefense measures. More recently there has been a trend towards more sustainable measures such as safe trade rules for biosafety, an example of which is the Biosafety Protocol. These are claimed to minimize the exposure of people and natural ecologies to alien organisms via trade or warfare.
In 2001 serious weaknesses in the U.S.'s border controls were exposed, which allowed the destruction of the World Trade Center in Manhattan on September 11, 2001 by terrorists. Following that there were several anthrax attacks on U.S. media and government outlets, and many concurrent hoaxes around the world. These combined to convince many professionals that serious structural reforms, national and/or regional border controls, and a single co-ordinated system of biohazard response was required for that region.
US Corporate investment in all forms of physical security has expanded steadily in recent decades on news of hijackings, hostage crises, bombings, office shootings, kidnappings and employee lawsuits. Ira Lipman, founder and president of Guardsmark Inc said: People are very concerned about their security needs and think they're in a war-like environment. People are going to spend the money because they don't want the problem... People are not going to have this kind of loss of life. Some anticipate that this will lead to a much more rigorous biosecurity standards, building on NORAD, NAFTA, OAS, and an improved biosafety protocol as corporations attempt to shift costs to government. Such measures may well prove necessary in the light of the ever-larger number of individuals and organisations with the ability to construct weapons of biological warfare.
Unlike biosafety precautions, biosecurity tends to be active; countermeasures include monitoring statistics for patterns which suggest emerging epidemics, ensuring sufficient stockpiles of the appropriate vaccines or other medicines required to contain an outbreak, public health education and alertness, widespread use of sophisticated pathogen detectors. Some seek to minimize risk or expenses by political measures such as unified Homeland Defense or by extending agricultural isolation zones into Bioregional democracies - forcing political borders to conform to natural ecologies - but this may be at odds with traditional national and cultural borders. So far, such measures have met with little success.
Some say active preventive measures are unlikely to be acceptable to the general population in peacetime. There could be general vaccination against biological warfare agents, but the public is unlikely to accept potentially harmful vaccines for such agents. States do not currently routinely vaccinate against likely biowarfare agents - partly because the risk associated with most vaccinations is greater than the perceived risk from biological warfare. Others point out that a vaccination program, even if imperfect, could reduce the risk of biological warfare by making the agent addressed less attractive as a weapon, and that in many cases government policy denies the public the choice of being vacccinated.
Currently in North America, three complementary strategies exist:
- biodefense measures assuming the most threats are local and short-lived.
- biosafety measures heightening the scrutiny on people or goods at borders, and making pessimistic assumptions as per precautionary principle.
- health security measures ensuring early warning and universal insurance by guaranteeing that the most vulnerable populations are regularly monitored.
UNU/IAS Research into Biosecurity & Biosafety emphasizes "long-term consequences of the development and use of biotechnology" and need for "an honest broker to create avenues and forums to unlock the impasses."