Tracing food from paddock to plate is very important. It gives consumers confidence that products are what they claim to be.
Nina Welti is a biogeochemist with expertise on how elements, nitrogen and carbon move through the environment. She is helping to make food traceability possible.
“The reason I do science is to make the world better. It sounds cheesy, but that’s genuinely why I work for CSIRO,” Nina said.
Nina and her team work on methods to verify food’s credentials, such as sustainability, water and energy use, safety standards, as well as place of origin.
These new methods use the food’s composition as its signature. Her team is identifying regional environmental fingerprints and developing new sensors to build a suite of tools. But traceability is pretty hard to achieve. There are huge challenges like available technology, data privacy and infrastructure to overcome.
On a mission to trace our food supply
To help achieve the biggest challenges, we have a set of Missions. Nina is part of our Trusted Agrifood Exports Mission.
This Mission is a partnership between us, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and Meat & Livestock Australia. The aim is to digitally transform Australia’s agrifood supply chain and grow the value of exports across commodities.
“We are trying to build provenance infrastructure so consumers know what it is they’re buying or where their food comes from. When it’s transparent, consumers trust the information that is there,” Nina said.
“What really motivates me is we’re also supporting growers, so they can get the full value for their produce. This will also allow them to see a real shift towards sustainable agriculture.
“Eventually this will become business as usual. Producers will grow and make food in Australia using the best methods for maintaining our lands,” she said.
Tracking your wine back to the vineyard
Nina and her team recently started working on a provenance, or place of origin, tool kit for Australian wine producers. The three-year project will create a wine provenance map. This project will eventually lead into a wider solution for the agriculture industry.
“Ultimately, this work will show us how wine, apples and beef move around the world. It’s really exciting,” Nina said.
“It’s great to work with government and industry on this in Adelaide, my adopted hometown.
“We’re working with South Australian Research and Development Institute on the project. And with the Australian Wine Research Institute to make use of their library of sample wines from around the country.”
Working on the impossible everyday
But not every workday is set among the grape vines. A typical day starts by getting her kids dressed and off to school and care. Then Nina heads to the office where she spends most of her day talking to people and connecting dots.
“A lot of my focus is talking with companies to identify how their problem may relate to someone else’s problem,” Nina said.
“We’re trying to come up with larger solutions, rather than something bespoke, that can be applied across industry. It’s this tricky space where no one person will have the answer.
“Once we’ve identified a solvable problem, I put teams, of many different experts, together to attack them. It’s super collaborative and a lot of fun,” she said.
Nina has ADHD. She recognises it as a strength in her role and ability to bring different bits of information together.
“What’s great about CSIRO is you can share these personal things and be really upfront,” Nina said.
“We have a really inclusive work environment where diversity is embraced.”