Once halloumi cheese is registered as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), exports risk dropping by 60 per cent as there will not be enough goat’s and sheep’s milk to meet specifications, cheesemakers said on Wednesday.
The long-running dispute over the sheep/goat and cow milk ratio content in halloumi cheese was reignited on Wednesday as sheep and goat farmers reported violations by cheesemakers which they said showed producers were using too much cow’s milk. The cheese industry insists that there is not enough sheep and goat’s milk to meet demand.
The head of the cheesemakers’ association, Giorgos Petrou, expressed concerns as according to a study they commissioned, they will need around 180m litres of sheep’s and goat’s milk per year after 2024 to be able to meet the more than 50 per cent ratio stipulated in the file submitted to the European Commission.
On July 17, 2015, the commission received the official application for the registration of the names halloumi/hellim as a PDO.
The halloumi file stipulates that the ratio of goat’s and sheep’s milk, or a combination of both, needs to be more than the amount of cow’s milk. Toward that end the government last year announced measures worth €35 million aimed at supporting sheep and goat farmers for the next three years. Due to the shortage of sheep and goat’s milk, which amounts to around 20 per cent of the industry, the commission granted Cyprus a 10-year adjustment period.
“Today we receive 35m litres of sheep’s and goat’s milk, 4m litres of which is used for other products, like yoghurt,” Petrou said.
He added that the Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis himself admitted that by 2024, goat and sheep milk production is expected to reach only 50m litres.
In addition, he said, once halloumi is registered as a PDO, they would not be allowed to name as halloumi what is now called ‘light halloumi’, nor those versions of the cheese which include chili and basil. These variations would not meet PDO specifications, he said, but at present they constitute 30 per cent of exports.
“We will call it white cheese or grill cheese, like competition does. The word halloumi is the only thing that protects us from competition,” Petrou said.
At times, he said, his company uses up to 50 per cent of sheep’s and goat’s milk in the halloumi it produces, but some months of the year, like now, he is forced to stop production for a few days per week to be able to collect enough milk to meet the minimum 20 per cent, as there is not enough milk available.
He added that cheese makers had even proposed for haloumi to be registered as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) instead as this would allow them to produce halloumi on their own terms, but the government “would not even discuss it”.
The head of the goat and sheep farmers’ association, Achilleas Tringides, said that he is positive they would be able to meet the required milk production by 2025.
“What’s important is to increase the productivity of our livestock. Increasing the number of animals will not be cost-effective and will overturn the balance of our eco-system,” Tringides told the Cyprus Mail.
He called for stricter controls on behalf of the government as regards the decree stipulating that at least 20 per cent of milk ratio in the halloumi cheese should be of sheep’s and goat’s.
The issue re-emerged after a group of sheep and goat farmers reported on Tuesday that following lab tests they carried out in halloumi cheeses exported to the UK market, it was discovered that one company had not used sheep and goat’s milk at all, another had used very little, and a third one had used around 8 per cent.
The group said that they would wait until August 23 when the president is due to discuss the issue with the cabinet. If no solution is reached, they have threatened to launch an official complaint with the committee that deals with the halloumi file in the EU.
Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis warned that the present illegalities needed to stop.
“Otherwise, the sheep and goat producers will be led to ruination. We will then not be able to produce 40 buckets of milk, let alone the 40m litres produced today.”
He added that the PDO procedure was close to completion and could not be stopped. The procedure was expected to be completed within three months, Kouyialis said.