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Poisoned Paprika Prompts Panic in Hungary

Authorities in Hungary have banned the sale of paprika, the famous spice of ground red pepper that has became a symbol of the country's progress and prosperity. Hungarian authorities made the decision after discovering traces of poison in the products distributed by several companies.

If it's about paprika, it's news in Hungary.

Hungarian television and radio bulletins have been leading the news with government warnings that Hungarian restaurants must take Paprika, and dishes containing it, from their menu's. And shops are removing the spice from their shelves.

The government has forbidden the sale of the ground spice after state inspectors discovered levels of a poisonous mushroom substance exceeded allowable limits.

Health officials have warned of possible liver and kidney damage if consumers eat large amounts of the spice.
However, the chief doctor of operations at Hungary's National Ambulance Service, Dr. Laszlo Pek, says it would take time before regular paprika consumers might notice health problems.

"If they eat a large amount of Paprika for several months, they can get some liver disease or something like this," said Dr. Pek. "It could be quit serious, yes."

The paprika recall has lead to worries among the general population. A special phone line at Hungary's National Ambulance Service has been flooded with calls from anxious Hungarians according to spokesman Gyorfi Pal.

"There were thousands of phone calls [from] average people [and from] old ladies who cook at home," Mr. Pal noted. "They are afraid of illnesses. And they ask what to do with the paprika."

Local news reports say the problem may have emerged when a few Hungarian companies mixed paprika with cheaper, poisoned pepper products from abroad, following a poor harvest.

Commentators say the scandal threatens to undermine Hungary's market position as one of the world's leading paprika producers.

The ban has caused problems for restaurants. Kalman Kalla, is the enthusiastic chef at the Gundel Restaurant of Budapest, one of the country's most famous upscale eateries. Mr. Kalla says he now has to improvise for his guests.

Mr. Kalla says one hundred years ago paprika was less used in traditional dishes. But nowadays, he says, we use it much more. Without the paprika, he adds, dishes don't taste the way they should taste.

Most people here seem to agree that for Hungarians eating Paprika is a way of life. Taking away their paprika, is like banning pasta in Italy.