Halloumi saga hardens on big producers

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The Agriculture Ministry is confident that by the end of the month, major dairy producers will be on board with the government’s decision only to allow Halloumi products conforming with the cheese’s Product of Origin (PDO) in supermarkets.

In another bid to settle a standoff between parties over what constitutes halloumi, some 10 months after the PDO was enacted on 1 October, Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis met farmers and President Nicos Anastasiades on Monday.

Following the meeting, Kadis reiterated the government’s determination to stick with the PDO file’s description, allowing time for cheesemakers to conform.

If dairy producers continue disregarding the PDO file, said Kadis, they will see their Halloumi products removed from supermarkets in Cyprus, while exports will be halted.

“The government is determined to see the full implementation of the regulation as soon as possible.

“Very soon, the legislation will be fully implemented, affecting products on the shelves of supermarkets in Cyprus and abroad.

“Only PDO-compliant cheeses can be called Halloumi,” said the minister.

He said that 32 dairy producers had had their products PDO-certified, but the island’s largest dairy producers have yet to do so.

It is understood that the five largest dairy producers, responsible for the lion’s share of Halloumi production, are holding their ground.

“It is true the major dairy producers have yet to apply for certification.

“We are positive they will do so soon so they can also start producing PDO Halloumi.”

Kadis also said President Anastasiades clarified that authorities would not tolerate deviation from PDO regulations.

“The President wishes that all stakeholders comply with the file, so the transition from the current state of affairs to fully implementing the PDO file is as smooth as possible.”

He said that warnings would be handed to producers, and if they chose not to conform, then measures would be taken.

Cheese rebels

Last week German authorities reported that Cypriot cheesemakers are exporting Halloumi products that do not meet the required EU standards under its PDO.

They had blown the whistle on Cypriot producers to the EU Agri-Food Fraud Network.

Legal Services have also ruled that products defying the PDO cannot carry the Halloumi brand in local stores or be exported.

The PDO file submitted in 2014 says goat’s milk should by 2024 exceed cow’s milk, reaching a minimum of 51%, produced from specific Cypriot breeds of goats and sheep.

The clause on the squeaky cheese’s milk ratio is the biggest thorn between authorities and cheesemakers who fear the loss of halloumi exports.

Cheesemakers claim they could make halloumi under the EU Trademark, bypassing the milk ratio criteria and legally challenging the Republic over the PDO file.

Other stakeholders are the goat and sheep breeders who have protested the non-implementation of the PDO file by dairy producers, which means their milk is left unsold.

They criticised the government for not carrying out the necessary checks.

Breeders argue their livelihood is at stake with dairy producers not conforming to the PDO.

Sales and exports of halloumi in 2020 and 2021 generated €270 mln annually, despite COVID restrictions.