Goat and sheep herders burned bales of hay and spilt milk outside Cyprus’ Presidential Palace on Tuesday in a protest over the traditional Cypriot cheese — Halloumi.
The rubbery cheese was given protected designation of origin product, or PDO status last April, meaning it can only be produced in Cyprus under strict criteria, preventing imitators worldwide from copying it.
But farmers are angry over delays in the PDO’s implementation.
They claim there has been a lack of audits in its production with ingredients such as powdered milk being used.
Halloumi’s PDO file states it must be produced with goat and sheep milk produced by local breeds.
“We’re against violence, but logic goes out the window when we’re hungry and our animals are dying,” a farmer said.
Another stressed: “If the government doesn’t want us, they can compensate people and we’ll change profession”.
The farmers also protested against dire conditions in their profession — and called for further government subsidies.
Smoke from the burning hay and the spilling of hundreds of litres of milk caused closures of main roads around the Presidential Palace.
Nicosia CID is investigating to identify those who lit up fires during the protest, according to a police spokesman.
Head of the goat herders association Panayiotis Constandinou said that delays on the halloumi issue are unacceptable, also claiming that the lack of checks on the production line is provocative.
The demonstration comes a day after Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said sheep and goat farmers are ‘in a very difficult situation’ as milk is sold cheaper than its production cost.
Demanding to see the president, protestors said animal feed prices saw a 115% increase, however, sheep and goat farmers were not receiving more money for milk from cheese producers.
Livestock farmers also warned that given the large increases in oil, electricity, fertiliser and consumables, it is only a matter of days before their livestock units close.
Tempers flared when the director of the president’s office Andreas Iosif recommended patience regarding the halloumi PDO, saying the issue is at the legal service.
“The President of the Republic understands the difficult position you are in,” he said and reiterated the previously announced measures for the financial support of livestock breeders.
Until the end of the month, goat and sheep farmers will receive a total of €5 million while another €3m will be distributed to other livestock sectors.
Iosif added that the agriculture minister will ask for additional aid for livestock breeders during the EU ministers meeting in Brussels.
On Tuesday, the issue was discussed in the Cypriot parliament, with Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis saying that recent checks by commerce ministry officers showed that certain samples deviated from the specifications for halloumi production.
In these cases, he said, penalties of up to €150 thousand can be imposed depending on the case.
The agriculture ministry said it will collaborate with the ministry of commerce to carry out checks, while it also provided the state laboratories with services and funds to check whether the content of halloumi products are being made with powder milk which is not in keeping with the PDO.
Kadis said although milk is sold cheaper than the production cost, halloumi prices remained the same.
“Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that prices are set by the cheese dairies, so sheep and goat farmers will get what the cheesemakers give them,” he said.
Milk production costs for sheep and goat farmers are close to €1.50 per litre, but milk is sold at €1.20 per litre, he added.
Another paradox, he said, is that while prices of all cheeses in Europe are rising, halloumi is remaining at the same level, while in some cases halloumi prices dropped.
“A higher price should be demanded for the product and farmers should be given what they deserve for their milk,” he said.
Livestock breeders, especially goat and sheep farmers are in a “very difficult position this period” he said, adding however that Cyprus is the first and one of the few countries that supported livestock breeders.