White gold: Cyprus’ halloumi cheese entangled in politics

1 / 4
In this photo taken Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019, Aphrodite Philippou, 73, makes Cyprus' halloumi cheese at a farm in Kampia village near Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP)
2 / 4
In this photo taken Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019, Cyprus' halloumi cheese is seen roasted on a plate at "Riverland" farm in Kampia village near Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP)
3 / 4
In this photo taken Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019, Cyprus' halloumi cheeses are seen after salting at a farm in Kampia village near Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP)
4 / 4
In this photo taken Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019, Cypriot farmer Vasilis Kyprianou, 48, roasts Cyprus' halloumi cheese at his farm in Kampia village near Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 15 December 2019

White gold: Cyprus’ halloumi cheese entangled in politics

  • Cypriot authorities have spent years trying to get the EU to recognize halloumi as a traditional product of the east Mediterranean island nation

NICOSIA: Dairy farmers on Cyprus refer to halloumi as “white gold.” The salty, rubbery cheese made from goats’ and sheep’s milk and prized for its ability to withstand a grill without melting is the country’s leading export.
Cypriot authorities have spent years trying to get the European Union to recognize halloumi, or hellim in Turkish, as a traditional product of the east Mediterranean island nation. Receiving the EU’s top quality mark — the “Protected Designation of Origin” — would mean only halloumi made in Cyprus could be marketed abroad under that name.
The nation’s farmers and producers want the Cyprus-specific designation to keep makers of inferior cheeses in other countries from claiming a slice of their market of over 200 million euros ($222 million). Cypriot producers say demand from overseas is projected to hit new highs in the next few years, thanks to heat-tolerant halloumi’s growing popularity as a meat alternative.
However, ethnically divided Cyprus’ complex politics so far have stymied the bid to protect the halloumi name. The difficulty lies in a dispute over how to lawfully get cheese made in the country’s breakaway northern third to foreign markets. The self-declared Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Turkey and goods produced there cannot be exported directly.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. The country joined the EU in 2004, but EU rules and regulations only apply to the southern, Greek Cypriot part of the island led by an internationally recognized government.
A European Parliament member from Cyprus has accused the EU’s executive commission of letting the PDO application for halloumi grow moldy. The government hopes the new European Commission seated last month will find a way around the quandary.
Halloumi/hellim was put on track for an exclusive geographic designation amid much fanfare in 2015, when relaunched negotiations between the rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders brimmed with hope of delivering a deal to reunify the island as a two-zone federation.
A compromise was struck for the Bureau V eritas — a European body that certifies food and agricultural products — t o perform checks on halloumi/hellim produced on both sides of the ethnic divide to ensure it met EU health and safety standards.
But the peace talks eventually collapsed, and the application has languished since then.
The Cypriot government says the agreement foresaw the export to European markets of vetted, Turkish Cypriot-produced cheese through EU-recognized ports in the south. Britain, Sweden and Germany currently are the top three markets for Cyprus’ halloumi.
But Turkish Cypriot authorities say there was no such understanding. They accuse Greek Cypriots of blocking the European Commission’s effort to enable halloumi/hellim exports from the island’s north.
“Turkish Cypriot producers should be able to export PDO-registered hellim/halloumi as they deem viable,” Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce President Turgay Deniz said. “They should not be restricted to trading across (the dividing line) and via the ports in the south.”
According to Deniz, 13 Turkish Cypriot halloumi/hellim producers export around 30 million euros ($33 million) worth of the cheese to Turkey and Gulf countries. The cheese reaches Gulf nations through Turkey.
Cyprus’ Agriculture Ministry says it intends to keep pushing to clinch the exclusive mark and “to solve soon the remaining issues relating to the registration of halloumi/hellim for the benefit of all Cypriot producers.”
The European Commission says it’s in contact with the Cypriot government and Turkish Cypriots to “ensure an outcome.”
But Cypriot European Parliament member, Costas Mavrides, alleges the Commission is “arbitrarily” stalling it’s approval for halloumi to get the PDO. He said there’s no legal reason for the cheese not to gain the designation and that the only step that’s left is the green light from the Commission.
Mavrides is urging the Cypriot government to take the matter to the EU Court of Justice so halloumi/hellim gets the coveted moniker.
Farmers’ organizations fully back the government’s PDO drive for halloumi. But curiously, a segment of the cheese-making community is voicing its dissent at the cheese clinching the designation amid concerns that this could lead to job losses and shrinking revenue.
For halloumi/hellim t o secure the designation, it must conform to a Cyprus government directive that it must contain at least 51% sheep’s and goats’ milk. That’s in line with a traditional Cypriot recipe dating back some 500 years when cows were a rare commodity. Now, the cheese is made with mostly cow’s’ milk.
But Cheesemakers’ Association President George Petrou warns that more than one-third of the 13,000 Cypriot families in the halloumi/hellim business would find themselves out of a job if they couldn’t use as much cows’ milk in their cheese.
Cheese exports would drop by at least half, as production would plummet because of a current shortage of sheep and goat milk, Petrou estimated.
Petrou says cheese-makers instead want authorities to pursue a geographical origin designation whose rules are more flexible on how much cow milk can be used.
“As cheese-makers, we want a solution that won’t reduce exports or lead to job losses,” Petrou told The Associated Press.
Other industry groups see holes in that argument. Rejecting the idea of using less cows’ milk loses sight of the long-term benefits that a PDO mark would offer Cypriot halloumi makers, says Michalis Lytras, president of the Pancyprian Farmers’ Union.
The geographic designation would protect local producers from foreign competitors who might use cheaper, possibly government-subsidized cow milk to make halloumi/hellim.
A PDO designation wouldn’t preclude finding solutions addressing cheesemakers’ concerns, like possibly marketing halloumi/hellim made with mostly cow milk under a different name.
“We can’t sacrifice those long-term benefits for short-term gains,” said Lytras.
Takis Christodoulou, president of the New Farmers’ Movement, says the high sheep and goat milk content appeals to health-conscious European consumers who are helping to fuel halloumi sales.
Christodoulou disputes that revenue from halloumi/hellim exports would drop as steeply as Petrou contends. He said while there may be a dip in cheese exports, PDO-designated halloumi/hellim would command higher prices in foreign markets.
“This is the natural product of Cyprus, and we couldn’t be prouder of it,” said Christodoulou.


Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

Updated 23 January 2020

Flying Dutch man’s mission to unite firms over climate change

  • Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone

DAVOS: While global leaders take to the stage at Davos in the Swiss Alps, one of the world’s most prominent businessmen is busy behind the scenes — trying to bring together the heads of major companies to tackle climate change and inequality.

Paul Polman became known as a leading voice on sustainable capitalism while running consumer goods giant Unilever for 10 years, and is a regular at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting for the global elite in the upmarket ski resort.

Since retiring from Unilever a year ago, Polman has set his sights on using his sway among business chiefs, governments, finance and civil society to get them to work together on climate change and making economies fairer for everyone.

“If you can bring about 25 percent of the industry together across the value chain, you can create tipping points, and that accelerates things,” Dutch businessman Polman, 63, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview at a Davos hotel.

His new sustainability consultancy, Imagine, set up last year, scored a major victory by organizing a fashion industry pact to announce at the G7 summit in France in August.

The pact involves 62 major fashion companies striving to use sustainable cotton, cut out single-use plastics, and align their businesses with the Paris climate pact to address global warming.

Now Polman wants to convene similar agreements in the food and land sector, tourism and travel, technology and finance, saying these companies had the biggest impact on the UN’s global goals to address inequality and climate change.

He was optimistic an agreement was achievable fairly quickly in the food industry, where he is already well connected as chairman of the Food and Land Use Coalition.

“They all want to be part of it ... six months from now we’ll have a substantial group in the food sector,” he said.

Polman said leaving Unilever had actually given him greater influence to change things for the better.

“As a CEO you had shackles around your legs,” said Polman, who has taken a leading role on a powerful list of bodies including chair of the International Chamber of Commerce.

With global challenges growing, governments could not be relied on, he said, adding that chief executives were starting to step up with bolder initiatives.

He cited Microsoft’s pledge to go carbon-negative by 2050 by removing carbon it has emitted over the past 45 years, and asset manager BlackRock saying it will stop investing in companies with a “high sustainability-related risk.”

“Things are happening at a faster pace than perhaps people think, but the multilateral process is difficult,” he said.

He pointed to disappointment over the recent COP25 climate talks, deforestation rising in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro, the US administration quitting the Paris pact, and the Australian government’s reaction over bushfires and climate change.

But there was greater awareness at Davos this year about the need to act, including a commitment to plant one trillion trees to curb climate-heating emissions, he said. “The initiatives are becoming bigger and bolder. Is this enough? No, because you cannot change the world without governments’ buy-in,” he added.