It is hoped Turkish Cypriot halloumi exports to the European Union will begin in June, the north’s European Union Coordination Centre’s chairman Selcuk Yurukogullari said on Saturday.

Speaking to the Turkish Agency Cyprus (Tak), he said four Turkish Cypriot companies have received certification that their production facilities can produce Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) halloumi, and 15 farms have received certification of their PDO suitability and their freedom from disease.

He added that in ensuring farms are free of disease to receive PDO certification, 98.8 per cent of Turkish Cypriot farms have now become disease-free.

With this in mind, he said the final hurdle Turkish Cypriot farms have to clear regards the matter of food safety rules. In short, he said, they must “ensure the food comes from the farm to the table in a healthy way”.

He said efforts are being made to ensure the relevant evaluations and examinations to receive that certification take place “as soon as possible”, to begin exporting halloumi to the EU in 2024.

Moving forward, he said, the European Commission is set to establish a laboratory in the north to analyse residue in milk and animal feed for the purpose of ensuring Turkish Cypriot halloumi’s compliance with EU standards.

When the laboratory is opened, he said, “there will no longer be any need to send milk and feed samples to laboratories abroad.”

Touching on the subject of milk ratios – a matter which has caused considerable controversy among Greek Cypriot producers – he warned that the stipulation that 19 per cent of milk in PDO halloumi be sourced from goat and sheep milk may cause shortages in the north.

He said that to ameliorate this potential issue, “efforts must be made to increase the number of sheep [in the north] immediately. We are negotiating with the EU to bring sheep from Europe.”

He added that this is the EU Coordination Centre’s “most urgent request” from the north’s ‘agriculture ministry’.

At present, he said, there is enough goat and sheep milk in the north to sustain three halloumi factories, and efforts are already underway to increase that number locally.

He said the EU had allocated €1.5 million to facilitate the breeding of goats and sheep, €2.5m to raise the production standards of certified disease-free farms, and €2.5m to help uncertified farms receive certification.