ALTERING the standards of halloumi production could undermine the government’s efforts to register it as a traditional speciality, Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou warned yesterday.
The minister was responding to dairy farmers’ objections over how to define the popular cheese prior to its registration as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) under EU law.
Photiou said the application which would be sent to the European Union had been prepared by the cheese farmers’ association and included production standards that had been in place for more than 20 years.
“One of the many objections from goat and sheep farmers is whether halloumi should be made 100 per cent from either goat milk or sheep’s milk,” Photiou said.
“This means altering the cheese’s standards and there would be nothing worse if we now went to Europe to register this product with a different set of standards. I have had a lot of contacts with European specialists on this matter and their advice was clear, ‘do not alter, do not change the standards because if you do, you will fail’,” he said.
The PDO law is designed to protect the names of regional foods and ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed in commerce as such.
Its purpose is to protect the reputation of regional foods and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.
Protected products include wines, cheeses, hams, sausages, olives, beers, and even regional breads, fruits, and vegetables.
Photiou said although there were some ambiguities regarding the percentages of each milk used to produce halloumi, it nevertheless remained a traditional speciality.
He said the ministry would examine all the objections prior to submitting the application to the EU, which he expected to do in two to three weeks.
“Certainly I’d be happy if we didn’t have any of these objections, but they change nothing. Other than the delays, nothing changes regarding our plans. I believe that with the file we have, we can deal with these problems and I’m optimistic that in the end Cyprus will beat this struggle,” the minister said.
Of the five objections put forward, two are from the Turkish Cypriot side. According to the minister, a group of Turkish Cypriots are demanding that the cheese be also called Hellim. The same group wants a body set up for inspecting their production of the delicacy so that they are able to market it for commerce.
“This is something that will also be examined. If they want inspections, these will of course have to be carried out by the state services,” Photiou said.
Objections regarding the definition of halloumi prompted the House Agriculture Committee to call an extraordinary meeting to discuss the issue next Tuesday.
Photiou has also been asked to attend and if necessary the committee might request the presence of those affected.
Speaking to CyBC yesterday, committee chairman Yiannakis Thoma said vested interests lay behind the objections and also warned that if Cyprus lost its PDO claim, the consequences would be catastrophic.
“One factor that has to be taken into account is that the standards for halloumi production are that it is manufactured from either sheep or goat’s milk, or a combination of both. There is also an Attorney-general’s ruling interpreting the standards and how the largest portion of milk used in the production of halloumi must be from sheep and goat’s milk.”
Thoma said since the standards had been set in 1985, they had not been implemented and that goat and sheep farmers’ were concerned over the lack of measures to ensure the majority of milk used in the production of halloumi would come from sheep and/or goat’s milk.
“It’s an internal difference of opinion. The delay it’s causing could be fatal, because if you start having problems in your own home, the end result could be fatal for this application, with the result that the Cypriot economy and Cypriot tradition will suffer a serious blow,” the deputy said.
DISY deputy Maria Kyriakou added that there was no question of negotiating halloumi’s tradition and history. She said the production standards had been set and worked and that any negotiations and deliberations were purposeless.
“When you have a traditional product, nothing factors into the matter except for the tradition and history of that product,” she said.
Kyriakou said what had been happening over the past few years was a negotiation over the history of halloumi when that could not be done.
“We are arguing among ourselves trying to sort out the details just so that we don’t send out application to the European committee… What we are trying to do now is to protect the halloumi name as a geographic name… If we negotiate our traditions between ourselves, imagine what foreigners will do,” she said.