DAIRY PRODUCERS in Cyprus have been rioting over the future of halloumi, with four people arrested last week following protests outside the presidential palace where farmers confronted police, set fire to hay bales, and poured milk onto the street.

Tensions have escalated since the famed Cypriot cheese was granted Protected Designation of Origin – while on the surface a boost for Cyprus' dairy sector, milk producers and cheese makers have since fallen out over the strict definition of halloumi set out in the PDO.

That definition states that 51% of the milk used to make the cheese must be from sheep or goats. But representatives from both the cheesemakers and the dairy cattle sector insist there is not enough goat and sheep milk on the island to meet that demand. The cheesemakers also argue that European customers prefer the milder cow milk halloumi rather than the strong and more traditional cheese from goats and sheep.

Conversely, dairy goat and sheep farmers want to see the rules implemented to the letter, which would see demand for their milk skyrocket and likely result in a rising price. They have accused the cheesemakers of illegally padding out their product with cow milk powder.

The cheese is one of Cyprus' best exports and is thought to be worth at least £200million to the Mediterranean island's economy. The new EU rules started to take effect in October with the first minimum threshold set at 20% for goats and sheep milk until 2024, whereafter it will go up to 51%. Cypriot farm minister Costas Kadis insisted that any cheese that does not meet the specifications set by the PDO cannot be called halloumi.

Despite minister Kadis’ assurances, sheep and goat farmers have accused the government of turning a blind eye to what was going on and not carrying out inspections of halloumi to check that it was made according to the PDO specs.

The processors strenuously deny the powdered milk allegations and state that the impact of coronavirus resulted in 100,000kg of cheese in storage. The protestors want this product, made some months ago, to be relabelled ‘Cyprus cheese’ and not under the coveted halloumi name.

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In the aftermath of the riot, talks this week between the Ministry of Agriculture and farmers appeared to be making progress towards a solution that would maintain production and ensure an acceptable level of sheep and goat milk. A compromise may see the defined sheep milk content in halloumi set at 30% alongside 15% goat’s milk, in order to make the product viable for cheesemakers.

“The meeting was carried out in a productive atmosphere,” Mr. Kadis said. “The farmers were informed about the government efforts to facilitate the implementation of the PDO implementation.

“We are aware that they have faced challenges due to the new rules they will have to abide by during the production process of the cheese. We listened to their proposals and we will hold talks with other interested parties, such as the cow dairy farmers.”