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Meet Jasmine Mander, CFIA science specialist

My name is Jasmine Mander. Born and raised in Ottawa, I was privileged from a very young age with easy access to the natural world.

Location is everything. In a valley surrounded by rivers, the Gatineau Hills and bountiful urban parks and trails, and with access to the Rideau Canal, of course, I was able to discover the beauty around me while fostering my passion for science.

Becoming a science specialist

This amazing environment is what motivated me to pursue a career in science and to obtain a degree in Environmental Science at the University of Ottawa.

The multi-disciplinary program taught us that ecosystems are more than just plants, animals and abiotic factors, and explored how these elements interact to become more than the sum of their parts.

With studies in a range of fields under my belt—including biology chemistry, climatology, geology and geography—I took advantage of being a student in the nation's capital to pursue co-op placement opportunities with various federal departments. By working at Statistics Canada, Health Canada and Environment Canada, I got a taste for how different facets of my education could be applied in the workplace.

After graduation, I moved to Toronto to work for a renewable energy consulting start-up. It was a great experience in a very different sector. I was part of a company with genuine passion for making the world a better place, one client at a time.

Old roots, new challenges

More than ever, I gained a new level of appreciation for Ottawa's enriching natural resources after moving outside the city for the first time.

When I was offered an opportunity at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), it was a no-brainer. I was glad to be back where I could continue making a tangible difference on a national level. I started off in plant health before moving to food safety science, where I now work as a Science Specialist.

Since joining the CFIA, I have realized that we strive to follow the same principles of environmental conservation that I learned about in my undergraduate degree.

The CFIA's mission is to "safeguard food, animals and plants, which enhances the health and well-being of Canada's people, environment and economy." There is an innate understanding that something happening in one part of the environment can impact another. That's what I love about my current role: we make linkages between these seemingly distinct elements. Understanding our connected world is so critical.

How signals help the CFIA make decisions

By gathering data from open-source media and scientific literature through daily environmental scans, my team provides meaningful intelligence to identify signals-- issues that would otherwise go unnoticed.

For example, an animal or plant disease outbreak in one part of the world may lead to a decrease in the global food supply, which in turn could impact Canadians' access to safe food. The unfulfilled demand for affected products in the market could lead to opportunistic food fraud activities.

With a large database that has been compiled and refined over time, higher-scale trend analysis can help predict and prevent future issues. For instance, one of the projects we are currently working on touches on climate change. This global issue not only impacts the food supply due to a potential increase in plant pests and diseases, but also leads to greater microbiological and biotoxin hazards.

What does that mean? For one thing, increased pesticide and drug use  to manage these risks can result in increased residues. Flagging these areas of concern helps the CFIA proactively tackle these problems, which is something I am very proud to contribute to.

Small actions yield big impacts

As a woman in science and being early in my career, I want to encourage aspiring and young professionals to nurture their passion for science.

There are opportunities to drive change in your community—and the world—for the better. Start simply and do what you can, like making more time for volunteering or activism and mapping out your educational and career goals. You can also learn more about science and research at the CFIA and get inspired by the CFIA's women in science.

Big or small, there are many ways to contribute. And if we do, we can all come together to make a difference.

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