Abattoirs alerted in sheep rustling outbreak

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Police have involved UK abattoirs in the hunt for thieves who have stolen at least 480 lambs, ewes and rams in Somerset over a six-week period. 

News of the rustling crime wave, which has even included the theft of cattle, emerged last week, alongside fears meat from the animals could enter the food chain.

“The meat trade can help us by providing us with details of any abattoir or butcher they suspect are operating illegitimately, or to let us know of any new traders bringing livestock for slaughter who raise their suspicions,” said WPC Rowan Hawkins of Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

“We are making contact with meat trade establishments around the country because of this spate of crimes and we would also ask them to report any tagging or movement paperwork irregularities to us.”

Spike in cases

Rustlers have targeted lambs and their mothers in a spike in cases shortly before farmers would probably have sent lambs to market or slaughter.

The thefts could have been carried out ‘to order’, or the animals might have been given new identities and then sold or sent to slaughter, the police said. The sheep could be being re-tagged and sold or slaughtered seemingly legitimately without raising any alarm, they cautioned.

Sergeant Stuart Williams of the Rural Crime Team warned: “Anyone involved in this crime, whether they are buying animals they know are stolen or their meat, is helping destroy honest businesses and lining the pockets of criminals.

“All the thefts are being investigated, and our units are stopping and checking vehicles capable of carrying livestock day and night to check tags and paperwork.”

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “This is very unwelcome, particularly for the farmers affected, though its overall impact on meat processors is minimal.”

Recurring problem

Theft of livestock, particularly sheep, because they are easier than cattle to move and handle, remains a recurring problem of greatest concern to farmers, rather than slaughterhouses and processors. Animals up to £30,000 in value have been taken in recent raids.

The crime is difficult to combat, because it is notoriously tricky to keep pasture land constantly monitored and secure.

Individual incidents may have little direct impact on meat traders, but there has been a worrying increase in rustling in some areas this year. A total of 134 cattle have been stolen from the Irish Republic to date this year, for example, close to the total for the whole of 2014.

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