The agreement reached on milk percentages in halloumi does not represent the entire farming world and might cause longterm issues in the farming industry, deputies from the House agriculture committee said on Tuesday after being briefed on the agreement by Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis.
An agreement reached between cheese makers, farmers and the ministry in July set a transitional period during which the halloumi produced will have 10 per cent goat and sheep milk, until January 2023. After that, the specifications will jump to 20 per cent, and thereafter the portioning will increase by five per cent a year – reaching 50 per cent by 2029.
Kadis, who was called to brief the committee on the agreement, said that 50 cheese factories, responsible for 80 per cent of halloumi production, have been approved and PDO production has started, so from next Monday, only PDO halloumi will be on supermarket shelves.
He explained that some “minor” amendments were made to the regulations within the framework of EU legislation, so that halloumi can be made in a different shape and size, “with increased moisture, from the milk of cows bred in Cyprus, as is the case with all sheep and goats bred in Cyprus”.
Kadis said a meeting was planned with the legal service concerning the halloumi file, stressing that the government’s goal was “not only a smooth transition to the post-PDO situation, but also to maximise the protection of the product with the withdrawal of the legal proceedings concerning the halloumi file”.
As an important extension of the agreement with the parties involved, the minister noted the increase in the sale prices of milk to the cheese factories during the month of August, compared to the prices that were in effect before.
Regarding the reduction of the goat and sheep milk quota, Kadis said that “in the difficult period that preceded and despite state support, several goat and sheep farmers were forced to reduce their livestock,” as a result of which it is estimated that production will fall below 10 per cent between the months of September and January.
“Therefore, since we have the opportunity to give them time to adapt to the new data, the system should be temporarily facilitated for them during these months.
“If there is no halloumi on the shelves in international markets and another type of cheese is introduced that people will know about, they will not easily return to halloumi,” he added.
“We wanted to maintain halloumi exports through the completely legal possibility given to us by the European regulation,” he said, explaining that after January the goat and sheep quota for cow’s milk will return to 25 per cent.
He also said that efforts are being made for an additional transition period, “because the European Commission owes it to us, since the registration of any other product has not taken as long as halloumi”.
Kadis said that the seven years it took for certification were years of uncertainty that it might not be achieved, “so there wasn’t the necessary investment to reach the goal”.
He also explained that through the agreement a reasonable period of time has been granted for the management of all products bearing the name halloumi. “The Department of Agriculture has highlighted the cases that are being differentiated and has given a warning until next Monday when it will be able to withdraw or detain products bearing the name halloumi, which are not PDO, as well as take cases to court,” he said.
Committee chair Yiannakis Gavriel of Akel accused the government of eight years of inaction regarding the support of goat and sheep farmers. The fact the government is opting for this reduction, he said, “shows the government was unable, or rather unwilling, to exercise the necessary controls. That’s how we got to the point of having a reduction, instead of an increase in the quota”.
He told reporters that goat and sheep farming was not supported with no incentives given to increase milk production. “The agreement is the product of a compromise between the parties involved, and it seems that the particularly unfavourable economic situation in which goat and sheep farmers have fallen in recent years, due to the inaction of the government, played a decisive role in the nature of the agreement”.
On the positive side, according to Gavriel, the participation of all the large cheese factories, except one, for the production of PDO halloumi, as well as the increases in the price of goat’s milk and cow’s milk, can be noted.
“We will closely monitor the implementation of the agreement, and when we feel that we need to renegotiate it, if any of the parties involved does not implement the agreement, we will go back to the agriculture committee,” he said.
Asked why cow farmers did not participate in the meeting, he replied that the committee had received a letter from them, saying it was doing damage by discussing the matter in parliament.
“The role of the Commission is clear, it has always been consensual in the implementation of European legislation, let the cattle farmers look to lay the blame elsewhere, because we do not have PDO halloumi,” he concluded.
“We have once again expressed our disagreement with the agreement reached by the Ministry of Agriculture with some organizations that do not represent all the breeders”, Diko deputy Christos Orfanides said.
He added that “the agreement in the near future will show the reality, which will create a thousand irreversible problems”. He also noted that neither the decisions of the General Prosecutor’s Office nor the directives of the EU were followed.
“We emphasised the need for goat and sheep farmers to join forces even today, because what is being done is to their detriment. We do not believe things are going as planned, but rather happening at the expense of the people involved in goat and sheep farming”, he said.
Regarding the quota, he noted that “it is not possible to be on the right footing”, having dropped from 20-25 per cent to 10 per cent.
“This is not sustainable for production. The opposite will happen in the end, because what is happening is that we don’t have enough sheep and goats to cover the needs of production”, underlining that the ministry must help the producers.