Cheesemakers on Wednesday said they had nothing to hide following concerted inspections by the competition protection commission after accusations that milk powder is being used in the production of halloumi.
On Tuesday during a meeting of the House agriculture committee MPs focused on the ongoing dispute concerning the specifications under which the cheese acquired PDO (protected designation of origin) status, in response to suggestions by goat and sheep farmers that halloumi manufacturers are using the powder because it is cheaper than buying milk from them.
Several members of the committee alluded to inadequate checks on the part of the government which meant that modifications to the formula were taking place undetected, and demanded stricter checks regarding the quotas of milk used.
Cheesemakers have angrily rejected the insinuation as unfounded and slanderous and demanded proof.
But they have also argued that the current specifications that set out how much of the milk should be from goats or sheep – which is the traditional way of making halloumi – and how much from cows, should be changed.
Against this background, and amid a surge in costs to maintain their herds, goat and sheep farmers protested angrily outside the presidential palace last week demanding implementation of the PDO formula.
Over the past two days, the commission has been carrying out surprise checks in efforts to determine any violations of EU and Cyprus specifications for the PDO formula and ascertain whether there has been any collusion among halloumi producers.
These checks are only one of the tools at the commission’s disposal, and one it is perfectly entitled to use, head Loukia Christodoulou told Sigma TV, refusing to respond to the claim of several members of the House agriculture committee that the checks were long overdue.
Christodoulou also clarified that the commission’s investigation covers the dairy market, which includes large-scale cheesemakers involved in making halloumi, but also the Cyprus Cheesemakers’ Association, in order to find out what is happening with sheep and goat milk prices.
In a separate announcement, the commission noted that its checks do not assume the guilt of any producers but only seek to gather the information required for the proper implementation of competition law.
Later in the day, the cheesemakers’ association published a response saying they have nothing to hide and will be waiting for the results of the investigation.
The statement added that both the association and any cheesemakers that have been investigated were perfectly cooperative and provided any information they were asked for.
“Despite everything happening, we will continue to produce and support halloumi as our national product, continue to export it and make profits, to create jobs and growth conditions for our country.
“We have nothing to fear,” it concluded.
Speaking to daily Phileleftheros, Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said that “the commission is an independent body with specific responsibilities and should be left undisturbed to investigate this case with full objectivity,” adding that “we are waiting for its conclusions”.