Swedish food expert Anna Richert of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said that eating Cyprus halloumi could be worse than eating meat because of the high levels of antibiotics Cypriot farmers give their animals.

Swedish national public TV station Sveriges Television (SVT) published her comments that come at a time when the consumption of halloumi has increased dramatically in Sweden from 21 tonnes in 2010 to 4,000 in 2018 making Sweden the second biggest importer of the Cypriot cheese after the UK. And it is this rapid growth that have Cypriots concerned about Ms Richert’s motives, with Cyprus Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis pointing to the “defamation of halloumi” on Swedish TV. “One can only associate this defamation with the very high demand for halloumi of Cypriot origin,” Kades said.

The Swedish broadcaster noted that halloumi itself does not contain antibiotics and is safe to eat, however Ms Richert stated that eating halloumi is a bad choice because Cyprus is the country which feeds the most antibiotics to farm animals in Europe. She said people should be aware that there are issues of sustainability related with the cheese.

“I think that consumers deserve to know more about this. I think it is a reason to be very careful when choosing products from Cyprus in shops,” she said, adding that halloumi will be included in the WWF’s consumer food guide to be updated later in the year and will not get a green light for this reason.

“It may actually be that this choice is worse than the piece of meat you chose not to eat,” she said. “It is a risk that we at WWF want to highlight. We want to help consumers make the right choice.”

READ ALSO: Cypriot farmers struggle to keep up with growing demand for halloumi

Cyprus producers point to ‘halloumi war’

Cypriot cheese producers and officials were angered by her comments and spoke of a ‘trade war’ with Sweden over halloumi’s growing popularity that is overshadowing local Swiss cheeses.

Deputy head of Cyprus veterinary services, Christodoulos Pipis, said that underlying motives were at play. “The rising popularity of halloumi and the preference of Swedes for it, those who chose to be vegetarians and substitute meat with halloumi burgers… you can imagine how much this has affected local [Swedish] cheese products, while producers in Sweden cannot produce halloumi and call it such,” said, speaking to Cybc.

Nicos Papakyriakou, general manager of the Pancyprian Organisation of CattleFarmers (POCF), said here were “expediencies” at work in Sweden..

“There was recently a dispute between the government and Sweden on halloumi, so as you can understand there are interests concerning other cheese products because in Sweden they produce products similar to halloumi,” he said.

READ MORE: Getting to know Halloumi, a traditional European cheese

Cyprus Cheesemakers Association chief George Petrou spoke of a “campaign aimed at smearing Cyprus halloumi” and told CNA that Swedes “want to incriminate it in order to sell their own cheeses.” He also pointed to similar cheeses that have begun production in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Mr Petrou said that there was no issue of antibiotics in milk, adding that it would not be possible to produce other products such as yoghurt, a probiotic, from milk containing antibiotics.

Cyprus SNA reported that large Swedish supermarkets which imported halloumi visited Cyprus farms and cheesemakers last week and were assured of the high quality of the cheese during production.