Industry Developing

In August of 2012, we told you about the first ever Cattle Sweep in Belize. It was the start of an 11 million dollar project partially funded by the European Union to bring Belize's cattle industry up to international export standards. That meant extensive testing for two diseases: brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. And now, two years later, only one case of tuberculosis has been detected after tens of thousands of cattle were tested in two sweeps.

The sweep and the disease free status has paid a real dividend for cattle farmers and we found out more when we went to the launch of the third sweep today:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
These cattle on Doni Urbina's farm outside Orange Walk Town were the first to have samples taken in the third cattle sweep.

That means squeezing a as much as a thousand pounds of bull, heifer or calf into a stall and taking a blood sample from the tail vein then fixing an electronic tag on the ear - a sort of passport for this cow - and all hundred thousand or so in Belize.

Dr. Homero Novelo - Veterinary Coordinator, National Sweep
"Now in the country of Belize we've done 97,000 plus animals on the first sweep. The second sweep is finishing this Saturday and today we are launching the third sweep. We started Monday testing here in the north."

Today at the launching of the third cattle sweep - officials spoke - but so did farmers who know that the project has directly added value to their cattle stocks:

Raymond Carney, Cattle Farmer
"It's a more sustainable investment for me and other small farmers. Previously when the price was depress it was harder to find a market for you bovine. Now with the cattle sweep, it means that we got access to more markets and get a more realistic price."

That has added value to these heads and turned what used to be a catch and kill enterprise into a nascent industry:

Jules Vasquez
"Since the sweep movement started 2 years ago, how has this change?"

Alistair Macpherson, CEO - Livestock Producers Assoc.

And big part of that huge-ness is in the price per pound which has gone up almost 200%.

Hon. Gaspar Vega, Minister of Agriculture
"The price of the cattle on hoof before the first sweep was 90-95 cents per pound versus today you would get up to 2 dollars and fifty cents per pound. So the farmers are realizing that the cattle sweep is what made that change in the pricing."

H.E. Paola Amadei, Head of EU Delegation to Belize
"The results are extraordinary and I think it's not just us being happy but the farmers being happy which is even more important. This is a windfall for all the farmers and I think they are aware of it."

Alistair Macpherson, CEO - Livestock Producers Assoc.
"It's not just because of the cattle sweep, it's because of us being able to enter these markets legally because of the cattle sweep. That's what really bringing the price up here, so without the cattle sweep we would still be struggling and having to take whatever was offered to us. We wouldn't be in this strong position we are now."

Strong position, but in most case, Belizean cattle is be exported illegally - basically smuggled into Guatemala - and that's because of..:

Alistair Macpherson, CEO - Livestock Producers Assoc.
"Cash, cash in your pocket. Cash is king and Belizean farmers are quite lucky in that the way the market has been. A guy turns up and he pays you cash for your animals in your pocket, takes your animals away."

But that cozy arrangement can't last much longer

Dr. Homero Novelo - Veterinary Coordinator, National Sweep
"It's an informal trade that we have there, but then they are getting away with this. What happens Mexico has a tax on animals entering the correct way to their country. By going to the back they are eluding the stocks, so it's lucrative for them. However, eventually this will has to stop and animals will have to go through the right way through the northern border corral."

And for the industry to continue developing the cattle sweep - which was once a novelty will have to become a fixture:

Hon. Gaspar Vega, Minister of Agriculture
"We know that it has to continue. We are hoping that the farmers will become even more cooperative so that it will be easier for the industry to be able to stay certified."

H.E. Paola Amadei, Head of EU Delegation to Belize
"What is important now is that the results are sustained, the sweep has been successful."

This third sweep should be completed in 10 months.

Farmers pay ten dollars per head of cattle for the sweep - which is a highly subsidized price. The European Union has provided 50% of the 11 million dollars needed to take the project through to the year 2015.

Channel 7