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Our View: The halloumi PDO saga is now verging on the absurd

agricultural research institute cows
File photo

Will there ever be an end to the halloumi PDO (protected designation of origin) saga or will the irrationality of the last few years continue? It seems set to run because the powerful cattle breeders in cooperation with the leading dairy producers, are determined to defend their business interests, regardless of the embarrassment they are causing the country.

In the latest twist to the saga, the General Court of the EU rejected the recourse seeking the removal of the PDO status of halloumi by a group of Cyprus dairy businesses. The recourse, which was against the European Commission that had issued an executive regulation in 2021 regarding the halloumi PDO, was rejected in its entirety by the court. None of the dairy producers’ arguments were accepted, the court making it clear that the Commission’s only concern, when ratifying a PDO, being that it satisfies the requirements of EU law.

Cyprus has made history with the halloumi PDO for all the wrong reasons. It is the first EU member-state whose own citizens have been opposing a PDO aimed at protecting its national cheese. More bizarrely, the people that filed a recourse against the PDO are the cheese producers that the PDO is meant to protect. Of course, they claim that the PDO will destroy them as the milk content set out in the specs, would change the taste of halloumi which would adversely affect sales abroad.

The biggest opponents of the PDO however are the cattle farmers, who fear the lower cow milk content in halloumi would drastically reduce their profitability. At present, there is a minimum 10 per cent goat’s and sheep’s milk in the cheese which was meant to rise to 25 per cent this month, after an agreement brokered by the government in July 2022 but has been delayed by threats issued by cheese producers. In July, the content of cow’s milk must be just below 50 per cent, but cattle farmers are fighting this and to appease them the government has applied to the Commission for a five-year transition period.

In other words, the government that applied for a PDO is asking that there is no compliance with the specs of the PDO file it had itself set. This is the level of absurdity we have reached, because cattle farmers are a wealthy and powerful interest group. There will now be another meeting at the presidential palace with the stakeholders to discuss what to do next, as if there is room for compromise. There is none, and the president should make this clear, because the ludicrous request for a transition period, could be rejected.

The Commission might not want to make a mockery of the EU principle of PDO as the Cyprus governments have consistently done in order to protect the earnings of cattle farmers.

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