Just as the EU is expected to vote on the registration of halloumi as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product on Friday, cheesemakers announced they would stage a mass demonstration on April 2 against the move, saying it would destroy the industry.

Registering the traditional cheese as a PDO is now at the final stage. What remains is the approval of the legal texts proposed by the competent EU Committees in which the member states participate, and then the College of Commissioners.

There are currently two legal texts. One concerning the registration of halloumi as a PDO and one concerning the decision of the European Commission on the phytosanitary inspections to be carried out in the north for the Turkish Cypriot version of the cheese marketed as ‘hellim’.

The other ongoing issue with halloumi has been the internal row over the formula of cow’s milk to sheep and goat milk, with farmers saying for years that the quota, 49:51 in favour of the latter in order to comply with the traditional recipe, could not be met by current milk production.

Late Wednesday, in an announcement, the cheesemakers association announced its members would strike on April 2 over the PDO.

According to CNA, among other things, the association claims that the PDO file as submitted does not protect halloumi but “will lead with mathematical precision to the destruction of the largest exportable agricultural product of Cyprus”.

“These losses will lead to the destruction of the entire dairy industry, livestock and agriculture at a huge cost to the local economy as it is estimated that the sector’s worth will shrink from €300m to €90m,” the association said.

Regarding the provision that goat’s and sheep’s milk should be in a larger quantity to cow’s milk, the association said that in the past year, around 65 million litres of goat’s and sheep’s milk was delivered to the dairy industry.

With 30 million litres of that intended for the production of pure goat and sheep halloumi, goat and sheep yogurt and other such cheeses, there was only 35 million litres left available for the production of the mixed halloumi.

The association said this, with the almost equal amount of cow’s milk would only produce around 14,500 tonnes of halloumi compared with the 43,500 tonnes they produce today.

In addition, the association noted that much of the existing sheep and goat milk production will not be able to be included in the production of halloumi because it is not in line with the breeds and animal feed set by the PDO file and therefore the quantities of halloumi would be further reduced.

The cheesemakers want a guarantee for the existing amount of production, ensuring the entire range of halloumi products as it has been produced and traded for the last 25 years “under the control and approval of the competent state authorities, and ensuring the use of all species and quantities of milk (sheep, goat and cow) regardless of breed or diet used in the production of halloumi”.

“We hope that logic will prevail and the ministry of agriculture will listen to the concerns of those who invested, developed and made halloumi into what it is on international markets,” the association concluded.

It did not give further details as to the April 2 demonstration.

Meanwhile, on Thursday Turkish Cypriot hellim producers gathered at the Ledra Palace crossing and read out a letter intended for the European Commission.

According to CNA, they were waiting, they said, for someone from the European Commission offices in Cyprus to go there to receive the letter, but this did not happen.

The letter stated, among other things, that establishing halloumi as a PDO and the possibility of exporting it to the EU via the Green Line was a huge opportunity.

However, they asked for a more reasonable transition period, and financial and technical assistance to upgrade their infrastructure to meet the standards required by the EU.

“In this context, we would like to ask if the Commission is taking concrete steps to provide the necessary technical and financial support to our dairy industry,” the letter said.

They also requested that the transition period for full compliance with the halloumi specifications, which will end in 2024, be extended for another ten years “taking into account the time that Turkish Cypriot producers will need to adapt to new standards and new procedures”.