Cattle breeders on Friday called off a meeting aimed at deciding on measures to protest against a government decree suddenly changing the ratio of cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk as part of the deal that allows halloumi to be labelled a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product.

The decree to raise the ratio of goat and sheep milk from 10 per cent to 19 per cent would be disastrous for dairy farmers, the cattle breeders’ coordinating committee had said.

The committee called on all dairy farmers to gather on Friday in Nicosia to discuss the proposal to organise a protest next Thursday, November 2, outside the Presidential Palace and the offices of the European Union, as well as possible legal actions to be taken up in Cyprus and with the EU.

The livestock farmers said that the move to change the ratios had left producers with unsellable quantities of cow’s milk.

The milk ratio adjustment comes as a result of the European Union’s protected designation of origin (PDO) guidelines, which state that there must be an eventual 50-50 split between cow’s milk and goat’s and sheep’s milk in halloumi.

The breeders further claimed that the minister’s decision had the marks of having been pre-determined, since stakeholders were called in just one day prior to the decree’s announcement, without being briefed.

On the same day, the agriculture ministry demanded the imposition of higher prices for goat and sheep milk, beyond the two significant increases already in the last year, they said.

The breeders said this amounted to a manipulation of the market and creation of an artificial shortage of goat’s and sheep’s milk.

On Friday, the gathering was postponed after an emergency meeting at the agricultural research institute was convened for Monday at 6pm by the minister of agriculture.

The meeting is expected to be attended by all stakeholders who will be invited to implement the agreements they have signed as regards the production of halloumi.

It was decided to await the outcome of that meeting. Cattle breeders said however, they would meet again on Tuesday to weigh up the situation following talks with the other stakeholders.

A representative of the cattle breeders told CNA they decided against meeting on Friday because the commerce and agriculture ministers would not be there. They were satisfied with the explanations, they said.

Meanwhile, reports on Friday said that incredibly large amounts of halloumi amounting to almost 7,000 tonnes out of the 44,000 produced annually, cannot be produced based on the available amounts of goat, sheep and cow milk according to official figures.

Based on the available milk quantities, 38,000 tons of halloumi can be produced while 7,000 more cannot be produced due to a shortage of the 55 million litres of milk needed.

As a consequence, there are suspicions that producers will turn to milk powder to make up the shortfall and fail to declare it, rendering the product non PDO.

Cattle breeders made this assertion during a House committee meeting on September 12, saying that 80 per cent of cheesemakers use milk powder.

Regarding the detection of imported milk powder in halloumi, the University of Technology, Tepak, is working on a way to accredit produce through DNA testing, which would determine whether the milk it contained was local or foreign, Phileleftheros reported on Friday.

In the last few days, inspectors from the ministry of agriculture have carried out administrative and laboratory checks taking samples of halloumi from the cheese factories in order to establish their compliance with PDO specifications.

Phileleftheros also reported that it has not been excluded that checks be carried out in places where halloumi is available for consumption, such as hotels, restaurants and cafes because there were instances where non-PDO ‘grilling cheese’ was being passed off and sold as halloumi. Block grilling cheese does not need halloumi specifications and can only milk powder if a producer wishes.