PAPRIKA has been taken off the shelves at Morrison's, Tesco and Sainsbury's supermarkets after a toxin was found in it.

The mild, red-coloured pepper has been withdrawn from all branches of the supermarkets, including Morrison's at Waterloo, Tesco in Huddersfield and Brighouse and Huddersfield's two Sainsbury stores.

The product was found to contain ochratoxin, a chemical which occurs naturally from fungi in grain, coffee, cereals and fruit.

Ochratoxin comes in two forms, A and B.

B is less dangerous than A, which can cause cancer if consumed heavily over a long period.

The chemical was discovered by the Food Standards Agency during a regular survey of ochratoxin levels in paprika.

The study started in December, following concerns that imported paprika might have high levels of another fungus- related chemical, aflatoxin.

The study also looked at ochratoxin A levels in cayenne pepper, red pepper and chilli powder.

West Yorkshire Trading Standards officials said the agency did not order the supermarkets to withdraw the paprika.

People who have bought it are being told it is safe to use.

A trading standards spokes- man said: "No-one has said to the supermarkets that they must withdraw the paprika.

"But when results showed ochratoxin in a particular batch of paprika they decided to withdraw it all as a precaution.

"They are acting responsibly. Ochratoxin is potentially harmful, but in small amounts it will not do anyone any harm.

"But if it was in everything it could cause a big problem, so we do seek to control it."

There is no legal limit on the amount of ochratoxin which can be present in paprika, although there are limits for cereals, dried vine fruit, coffee, wine and grape juice.

But the European Commission plans to set limits for ochratoxins in spices soon.

It was supposed to consider the matter in December, 2003, but the issue was postponed.

Last October, paprika sales were banned in Hungary until tests had been carried out, after aflatoxin was found in the spice at three of the country's food distribution firms.

Hungary uses paprika extensively and is also a big exporter of the spice.