Kiwi cheesemakers concerned over EU's move to limit use of the word 'halloumi'

Kiwi cheesemakers say the word "halloumi" is a generic name used around the world.
Kiwi cheesemakers say the word "halloumi" is a generic name used around the world. Photo credit: Getty

Cheesemakers in New Zealand say it's concerning Cyprus may soon be granted exclusive rights to the term "halloumi" by the European Union. 

They say the word is a generic name used around the world and shouldn't be "monopolised" by any one country.

"Halloumi is a popular cheese for New Zealand consumers, with a thriving and innovative community of New Zealand cheesemakers delivering this delicious product to New Zealand tables," Neil Willman, president of the Specialist Cheesemakers Association, said on Wednesday.

"We are concerned at Europe's continuing campaign to restrict the use of common names in international cheesemaking, at the expense of producers outside of Europe."

Willman said the EU is arguing the food's characteristics are unique to where and how it has been produced, and is using an intellectual property rights system called "Geographic Indications" (GIs) to stop other countries using the term.

The idea is to treat the cheese like Champagne, which can only be used for sparkling wine produced in its namesake region in France.

And halloumi isn't the only name the EU is looking at protecting. It also has other popular cheeses in its sights.

"This erodes the heritage and evolution of food production in places like New Zealand where cheeses such as feta, gruyere, havarti and halloumi are commonly consumed and considered generic," says Willman.

He said a recent decision by European courts extending GIs protection to include characteristics of food was even more concerning for the industry.

"What's next? If European producers have their way, we won't be able to produce 'squeaky' or 'white' cheese anymore. The effect on cheese making in New Zealand would be chilling."

Kimberly Crewther, executive director of the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ), says the EU's actions could end up limiting domestic production as well as the ability of the local cheese industry to grow.

"Maintaining maximum flexibility in terms of products and markets is important to the New Zealand dairy industry," Crewther says.

"The opportunity costs of narrowing trade options are always high."