By Constantinos Psillides
DAIRY farmers and cheese makers vowed yesterday to fight Cyprus’s application to register the traditional halloumi as a protected designation of origin (PDO) product in the European Union, claiming that if the application goes through it will mark the end of halloumi cheese.
The government submitted the application to register halloumi as a PDO on Wednesday and expects an answer within a year. PDO is a designation aimed to protect the names of regional foods and to ensure that only products originating from that area can use the trade name.
Nikos Papakyriakou, general manager of the Pancyprian Organisation of Cattle Farmers (POCF), said that his members will file an appeal with the Supreme Court to overrule the government’s decision to submit the application. If the appeal is successful, the halloumi PDO application will have to be withdrawn.
“This is a severely flawed application that will end up hurting our cause instead of promoting it,” Papakyriakou told the Cyprus Mail, adding that POCF legal advisors have already begun working on the case.
Farmers and dairy producers claim that it is impossible to produce halloumi by the standards set in the application, whereby the proportion of goat and sheep milk in halloumi must be at least 50 per cent. They add that forcing them to adhere to this standard will eventually lead to their destruction and the subsequent collapse of the halloumi market.
“The file calls for a 50 per cent sheep and goat milk content. I’m telling you that at present, there is less than 5 per cent available in the market. My farm produces 80 tons of cow’s milk per day. If the minister can come up with 20 per cent of that in goat and sheep milk then I take my hat off to him,” POCF president Savvas Evangelou said on CyBC radio.
Evangelou also said that the government will fail in its attempt to boost goat and sheep farming, leading to an “unavoidable shortage of milk needed for halloumi.”
Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis had said on Wednesday that the government will allow for a ten year transition period, allowing cheese-makers to use milk cow at 80 per cent to produce halloumi. That percentage will gradually over the years fall to below 50 per cent within a decade.
Kouyialis also announced a series of measures designed to help producers and animal farmers modify their businesses to conform to the new standard.
The minister said that the government plans to subsidise the modernisation of existing and the creation of new farms, as well as the improvement of halloumi production facilities.
The subsidies will range between 40 and 60 per cent of the cost, which can be up to €800,000.
“Not even in ten years will we be able to produce that much goat and sheep milk. Even if all Cypriots got into animal farming we won’t be able to produce the amount of milk needed. If there was a way to make this possible, we would welcome it. But if the file is approved by the EU then it will be the end of halloumi. The traditional halloumi will become history. We will not let the application pass,” said Evangelou.
Giorgos Petrou of the cheese-makers association had similar reservations.
“If the minister can guarantee that we will have the necessary quantities of milk to conform to the standard, then we have no problem with signing-off on the decision. But for that to happen, we have to double the animals currently on the island. That is impossible,” said Petrou, adding that the file will signal the “funeral of halloumi cheese”.
“Halloumi earns revenues of €75-80m a year, with a 10-20 per cent annual increase. It’s sad that we are taking measures that will result in cutting back on exports. This is a crime.”
Kouyialis expected the heated reaction by the cattle farmers and cheese-makers.
Asked by the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday to comment on the expected protests, the minister had described them as “unreasonable”, saying that they must realise that submitting the application was for the best and that by setting the quantity standard was the only way to get the EU to register halloumi as a PDO.
Kouyialis told CyBC that the EU specifically requested for a standard on milk levels to be set and that the government is giving animal farmers plenty of time to restructure their businesses.
Despite the protests, the halloumi PDO application was welcomed by parliamentary parties and the goat farmers association. Both major parties issued statements congratulating the minister on submitting the long delayed application, with AKEL criticising ministry officials for the delay.
As of 2000, Cyprus owns the trade name for halloumi, but government efforts to register it as a PDO were hindered mainly due to reactions from cheese makers and cattle-farmers.