Agriculture minister Nicos Kouyialis has said EU approval of halloumi as a Cyprus Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is due shortly despite some local cheesemakers wanting the application withdrawn because they say it will hurt the economy.
The application which was filed in July 2015 stipulates that the ratio of goat and sheep milk, or a combination of both, needs to be greater than the amount of cow’s milk, a regulation cheesemakers disagree with as cow milk is cheaper and more easily available.
Despite the often-high levels of cow’s milk content in the cheese at present, halloumi exports have soared in recent years and cheesemakers are concerned the EU regulations will threaten that.
Kouyialis said on Tuesday that President Anastasiades is sending a letter to Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the EU commission, asking him to proceed with the halloumi designation in December during the European Council.
The agriculture minister explained all that remains to be done to finalise the approval is to amend the green line regulations so Turkish Cypriots can market the halloumi they produce. The two side disagree over how this should be done.
The number of sheep and goats will increase by about 30,000 within the next couple of years, meaning their milk production will increase by 13 to 14 million cubic litres, Kouyialis announced.
He said measures are also being taken to modernise the existing farms as one of the problems is the low productivity of the livestock.
“Our great goal is to support the production of halloumi and I think we have made significant progress in these past two years and I am sure that in the next two years we will see all the important things that are happening in the field of agricultural economics,” he said.
He added 233 young farmers are eligible for the first-time farmers’ installment of an agricultural subsidy. They will receive a lump sum of € 20,000 each to invest in this sector.
But at Tuesday’s session of the House agricultural committee, the cheesemakers’ association said that the application should be withdrawn.
The association claimed that if it is adopted a lot of exports would have to be destroyed while currently exports of halloumi are doing well and will continue to do so if nothing is changed.
“Exports within one year increased by 37 per cent,” chairman of the cheesemakers Giorgos Petrou told the committee, “while it is estimated that the current trade from exports of €100 million will reach €300 million by 2023.”
If the government goes ahead with the application, Petrou claimed, exports will fall by 54 per cent by 2024.
According to the association, some 35 per cent of halloumi types currently produced are not included in the documentation and it will not be possible to manufacture these in future.
Kouyialis argued that most farmers support the PDO request. There have been those who didn’t comply with a 2014 decree to gradually increase the quantity of sheep and goat milk in halloumi from 20 per cent to 50 per cent, but though they paid €470,000 in fines, since March 2017 there have been no new fines.