Farmers urged to check livestock insurance

Farmers are being advised to make sure their insurance is up to scratch, following a spate of live animal thefts in the wake of rising meat prices.

In the past month, 500 pigs were taken by rustlers from a farm in Staffordshire, 80 lambs and ewes were reported missing from Bridgewater, Somerset, and 20 sheep about to lamb disappeared from a field near Ulveston, Cumbria.

The pigs stolen from Staffordshire were taken from Packington Fields Farm, in Hopwas near Tamworth. Farmer Rob Mercer estimated that the pigs were worth more than £25,000. It is thought that thieves broke down a fence, walked half a mile to the pens and herded them into a truck.

NFU Mutual has warned that, despite the fact that the sheer number of animals stolen suggests a degree of organisation among criminals, many farmers are not insured against such theft.

“Rural thieves are very quick to target whatever they can sell on for a quick buck. Last summer’s high fuel prices and scrap metal prices led to thefts across the country. Now rises in the price of meat and the economic downturn are sounding alarm bells,” said a spokesperson.

It is estimated that the price of a whole pig has risen by nearly 50% since last year, due to shortages of supply. Industry leaders suspect that the number of pigs stolen from Staffordshire could indicate that someone in the supply chain was involved in the theft.

Barney Kay, manager at the National Pig Association, told The Times: “It must have taken four or five people to load the animals. They used straw and knew how to handle the pigs. It must have taken up to an hour-and-a-half to lift them. Each one weighed about 15kg.”

The NFU said that while theft of livestock is obviously a financial burden for farmers, there are also “real concerns” about the welfare of the animals and how they might enter the food chain.

“There are huge questions over meat traceability and standards when they are taken and for those that buy them. The NFU would urge people to continue to be vigilant in rural areas, join Farmwatch schemes and keep an eye out for suspicious people or vehicles. The rural community is close-knit and we would urge people to report anything unusual to the police.”