The secret toxins in our food

Sometimes our food lies to us. Is it really safe to eat? Is it even what's listed on the packet? A lab in Belfast is one of best places in the world to find out.

In a university laboratory in Belfast, a student named Terry is holding an infrared sensor over a tiny dish of powdered oregano.

At least, it was labelled 'dried oregano' for the food market. But is it?

As the sensor's light hits the material, a software programme performs an analysis.

This time the substance is a good match. It quite often isn't.

In some batches, up to 40 per cent of the 'dried oregano' came from leaves of another plant, such as myrtle or olive trees.

The problem is not just that people are getting ripped off by having cheap dried leaves added to their packet of herbs.

It's also that, often, those cheaper leaves weren't properly washed and prepared for human consumption.

"When we went and did the pesticide checks, they were absolutely hooching with pesticide," says Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University, where the lab is based.

"So even in your 20 per cent adulterated oregano, you were getting a very nice dose of pesticide at the same time."

Food chain

Today, the value of the global retail food market is $4tn (£3tn) - and rapidly growing. Some predictions hold that by 2020, it will reach more than $8tn (£6tn).

As a result, supply chains are getting more and more complex - and more at risk of a type of criminal fraud in which cheap, often nasty substances are mixed in at some step of the process.

The adulterators siphon off billions from the legitimate market. And in doing so, they put people's health at risk.

Having grown up on a farm in Northern Ireland's County Antrim, Elliott has a sound understanding of how to produce quality food.

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