EU tightens safety rules on Brazil peanut imports

BRUSSELS, Oct 5 (Reuters) - The European Union has tightened food safety rules on peanuts from Brazil due to high levels of a cancer-causing chemical in shipments, officials said on Friday.

The decision, taken by a panel of EU-27 national food safety experts, was designed to limit the risk of aflatoxins entering Europe from the South American agricultural powerhouse.

National inspectors would have to increase checks on Brazilian peanut cargoes to a rate of 50 percent, one said.

"Previously no frequency was specified, but no member states were applying 50 percent frequency. This measure was deemed necessary because aflatoxins continue to be a problem with regard to nuts from Brazil," the official told Reuters.

Aflatoxins, which pose a risk of liver cancer even at very low doses, occur naturally and are produced by moulds in soil, decaying vegetation, hay and deteriorating grains. Their growth is aided by high moisture content and high temperatures.

Brazil is the only the latest in a long line of countries whose agricultural exports have been found to exceed EU food safety standards for aflatoxins.

The EU's last major incident involving aflatoxins was in 2005 with Iranian pistachio nuts and in the previous year with paprika from Hungary. In 1999, the European Union temporarily banned peanut imports from Egypt due to high aflatoxin levels.