President Nicos Anastasiades welcomed on Monday evening the registration of halloumi by the EU as a protected designation of origin (PDO), seven years after Cyprus first applied.
“A milestone day for Halloumi/Hellim and our country,” the president tweeted.
“Significant prospects for increasing exports of our national product, to the benefit of all Cypriot producers, Greek and Turkish,” he added.
The president also posted the message in Turkish.
Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said, also in a tweet, that the competent EU committee unanimously approved the legal document making halloumi a PDO product, thus “providing it with a shield of protection”.
More information on the PDO registration is expected to be announced by the government on Tuesday.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC on Monday night, Kadis said that the EU decision was a “development of great importance since our national product is registered and protected”, especially at a time when it is threatened by businesses that illegally produce it abroad and who are gaining ground.
But the PDO is not good news for everyone as the sector directly affected by the decision, the cheesemakers and milk producers, express their concerns over their ability to produce halloumi with the strict guidelines on what constitutes the cheese from now on.
A major issue is the stipulation that most of the milk used in production – at least 51 per cent – must be from goats and/or sheep milk and there are concerns about being able to produce enough quantities. Meanwhile, there will be surplus cow’s milk on the market.
There are also concerns about competition from Turkish Cypriot halloumi producers, who are expected to be selling their products for less, and fears over plunging sales of other, popular products, such as halloumi burgers and light halloumi, which now, will not be able to carry the traditional cheese’s name since they will not meet the product specifications.
Cyprus officially filed to the European Commission its application for the registration of the names Halloumi/Hellim as a PDO for cheese made predominantly from sheep and/or goat milk in July 2014. The application covers producers from the whole island and foresees the protection of the name in the two languages, Greek and Turkish (halloumi/hellim).
Earlier in the day, the minister, in response to concerns and objections by cheesemakers that the PDO would mean their doom, Kadis said that local businesses would have been at a disadvantage in markets abroad had halloumi not been registered as a PDO. He said that in such a case, Cypriot businesses selling halloumi would find their product sold side by side with cheaper versions halloumi produced in other countries.
Kadis said the registration of halloumi as a PDO ensures that halloumi will be produced in Cyprus.
“The file, because it concerns a traditional product, includes some restrictions which we can manage in cooperation with all stakeholders,” Kadis said.
But cheesemakers and milk producers are not convinced this will be the case.
“We are celebrating the registration of a product we will not be able to produce,” Nicos Papakyriacou, head of the cow farmers’ association told CyBC earlier in the day, before the announcement that halloumi was registered as a PDO.
He said that 40 per cent of the cheese products produced today in Cyprus such as light or flavoured halloumi, will not be allowed to be called as such and will face tough competition in markets abroad by companies selling similar products, copied from the Cypriot ones, at cheaper prices.
Giorgos Petrou, head of the cheesemakers’ association, raised fears over the uncertainty of securing enough quantities of sheep and goat milk but also that many of the breeds of these animals in Cyprus are not included in the file meaning that farms will not be able to supply their milk for the production of halloumi.
He added that they were concerned that there will be a lot of surplus of cow milk, “which we will not know what to do with it”.
The cheesemakers had said they would strike on April 5 over the decision.
On the issue of Turkish Cypriot produced hellim, Kadis said that the product’s transport through the Green Line will be done legally, through strict controls and only if the product is certified based on certain specifications.
EU rules require Cyprus to set up a control system making sure that only cheese produced in line with the specification uses the name ‘Χαλλουμι’ (Halloumi)/‘Hellim’.
A European Commission spokesperson said last week that the PDO proposal would incorporate a parallel decision to allow halloumi and hellim cheese producers to cross the Green Line, provided that they produce it in full compliance with EU health and safety standards. This would open the possibility for cheese produced in the north to be exported to Europe by passing through the government-controlled areas.
EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said this was a “historic achievement for Cyprus to protect its national product and increase trade with the EU.” “After years of effort, today EU member states have approved the Commission’s proposals to trade halloumi/hellim as a PDO, including across the Green Line,” Kyriakides said.