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Uncertain Future for Cyprus' Traditional Cheese as PDO Status Challenged | Halloumi Cheese

February 7, 2024

The fate of Cyprus' main export product, Halloumi, appears uncertain as its certification as a product with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) is being challenged.

The lawsuit brought by cow breeders and cheese makers will be heard on February 21st by the European Courts, and the decision, if it favors the lawsuit, is likely to create many complications for the traditional cheese.

The dispute lies in the ratio of cow's milk to sheep's milk that has been submitted by the government for PDO certification, a ratio that is not agreed upon by cheese makers and dairy producers.

This ongoing conflict poses a serious threat to halloumi's PDO status and leaves room for imitators to take advantage.

It is a fact that dairy producers, cheese makers, and livestock farmers are disturbed by the plans of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Government, which foresee an increase in the quota of goat and sheep milk in halloumi from 10% to 25% as of February 1st.

In fact, the cheese makers had warned that they would shut down their facilities starting from January 10th. On their part, the cow breeders threatened to protest by pouring their milk outside the Presidential Palace if the dairies were to close.

In response to the growing tensions, the government proposed an extension of the current regulation until February 21st, in a meeting with all relevant parties.

Although dairy producers welcomed this proposal, they simultaneously expressed their concerns, noting that the increase in the proportion of goat and sheep milk would have a negative impact on halloumi exports.

The cheese makers, through their representative Mr. Michalis Koulouros, a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Cheese Makers, stated that they would discuss the proposal internally and decide accordingly.

In case the government proposal is rejected, they will proceed with strike actions. Mr. Koullouros emphasized the need for the government to recognize that the available quantities of goat and sheep milk are insufficient to maintain exports if the ratio is further altered.

The cheese makers also expressed their broader concern regarding the regulations of the EU for Protected Designation of Origin. According to their statements, the balance in the ratio of cow's milk and sheep's milk poses a threat to producers who are exclusively involved in goat and sheep milk halloumi.

Extension and Ceasefire Deal

The government spokesperson, Konstantinos Letymbiotis, announced that the current regime for halloumi cheese will be extended until February 21st, which coincides with the expected decision of the European General Court on the matter. Therefore, both the government and the producers are waiting for the judicial decision before taking further action.

In the background of the issue, a decision was already made in July 2022 for a "truce" on the contentious issue of the ratio of cow's milk, goat's milk, and sheep's milk for the production of halloumi.

At that time, the Ministry of Agriculture agreed to delay the implementation of the PDO ratio until 2024. The strategy was for goat and sheep milk to exceed 50% by 2024 and gradually increase each year, reaching the 50% threshold by 2029.

However, the cheese makers believe that the government did not fulfill its part of the agreement and released themselves from any obligation. It should be noted that the agreement provided for the evaluation of goat and sheep milk every six months.

Impact on Goat and Sheep Breeders

A source close to goat and sheep farmers claimed that they are at a disadvantage. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, the specific source highlighted the potential for higher profits if the sheep herds processed the milk themselves.

By selling the milk for 1.45 euros per liter and using 6 liters to produce one kilogram of halloumi cheese, they would earn 9 euros for each kilogram of halloumi produced.

Revenue Contribution of Halloumi from Exports

Halloumi cheese is known as the 'white gold' of the island. Not by chance, as from 2017 to 2021 alone, it contributed €1.34 billion to Cyprus' exports.

According to the industry, there are great and justified expectations for a significant increase in revenues in the coming years.

In 2022, Cypriot dairy producers exported halloumi worth €284 million, as reported by the Ministry of Commerce.

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