“This law will leave farmers with tonnes of unused milk, which will be spilled on to the roads,” said the head of the cattle farmers association Savvas Evangelou.
The law provides increased use of sheep and goat milk, as well as some hefty fines for those violating the now-official halloumi standard. The bill almost didn’t make it to the plenum as reports suggested that the party leaders might postpone the vote.
One MP told the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday that he and other deputies had received threats from some cattle farmers who did not want the law passed as it would cut down on the amount of cow’s milk used in halloumi, which would cost them millions.
But the law was passed, and despite their threats, the farmers left the area.
Earlier in the day, around 140 farmers took to the streets in tractors, pick-up trucks, lorries and other agricultural vehicles, starting at the GSP stadium on the outskirts of Nicosia and making their way to the House by mid-afternoon under heavy police escort.
Arriving at the parliament building, they parked opposite on the site of the capital’s old general hospital. “Don’t destroy the last support of the national economy,” read one banner, while another said: “MPs: don’t vote in the dark”.
Around 30 to 40 policemen stood in a line outside the building, blocking the farmers from entering the House. “We are following orders,” one policeman told the Cyprus Mail. Farmers said they were biding their time, waiting to see if the vote went ahead at the plenum.
The halloumi standard has been the subject of many conflicts between state, farmers and dairy manufacturers, with everyone involved wanting their fair share of the very large pie that is halloumi exports – estimated to bring in hundreds of millions of euros every year.
Up until now, even though the 1985 standard clearly states halloumi should be made the traditional way – in majority with sheep and/or goat milk – manufacturers have been using mostly cow’s milk, which they said was more readily available than sheep and goat milk.
Goat and sheep farmers recently dumped tonnes of milk outside the Presidential Palace to protest manufacturers’ plans to apply to have halloumi registered as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), using the wrong standard.
The application was eventually withdrawn and replaced by a new one from the goat and sheep farmers. Now it is the cattle farmers’ turn to be angry.
The bill in question provides for fines of up to €150,000 for those caught violating the halloumi standard, which was concluded on following meetings between Agriculture Minister Sophocles Aletraris and all involved parties.
The final decision was to place responsibility on the Commerce Minister to issue orders stating the minimum amount of sheep and/or goat milk that should be used in halloumi, based on how much milk is being produced.
As there is not enough sheep and goat milk to fulfil the standard all year round, the bill states that from December until June, there will be enough milk to cover 35 per cent of halloumi production, the rest being covered by cow’s milk.
And from June until November, it will be produced with 23 per cent of goat and/or sheep milk. The aim is to gradually increase these percentages over the next five years, in the hope that the standard can be fully followed.
Minister Aletraris yesterday said it was time to stop talking and take action, where halloumi was concerned. Asked if he had a message for cattle farmers, the minister said: “The time for messages and words is long gone; now it is time for action.”
By Jacqueline Agathocleous
Published on May 25, 2012