12/08/2019

Almost 11,000 Cattle Reported Lost Or Stolen

Almost 11,000 cattle have been reported lost or stolen in Northern Ireland in the last three years.

Revealing the figures, Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann MLA said organised crime gangs are becoming increasingly involved with the theft of cattle from farmers across the region.

The north Antrim MLA said: "Cattle can and do disappear for a host of genuine reasons. They can fall down steep drops when grazing and others can even be swept away in flood waters.

"No one, however, thinks 10,755 cattle have succumbed to such events in the last 3 years. The reality is that a large number have been stolen."

After receiving numerous reports of livestock theft, Mr Swann requested information from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs on the number of cattle registered as lost or stolen in recent years. He was shocked by the response he received.

3,838 cattle disappeared in 2018 alone, compared to 2,807 in the period 2011/12.

Highlighting the growing trend in criminality, the UUP leader said: "Cattle rustling is nothing new to Northern Ireland but the problem is evidently getting worse.

"It angers me when farmers contact my office after they've had cattle stolen. Many of those being lifted are quality animals that have been specifically bred and reared on the farm and are worth considerable sums of money, only to end up being stolen by cowardly thieves operating under the cover of darkness.
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"Rather than being simple opportunist thefts however, I suspect a large number of these cattle are being stolen to order.

"From discussing the problem with different contacts in the PSNI, I believe many of the people behind the thefts are part of wider criminal gangs. Once the cattle are stolen their tags are usually quickly changed before they are later smuggled with fake documentation into factories in the Irish Republic.

"For those that aren't sent across the border they are most likely slaughtered in backyard processing facilities."

Mr Swann partly attributed the rising issue to a stretch on public finances, with policing budgets under pressure and less officers on the ground.

"That means it's increasingly difficult for the police to be out on the ground and looking for this type of activity," he continued. "It's also why it's time there was a concentrated effort to identify the factories in the Irish Republic that are accepting these cattle, as well as tracking down and shutting down the illegal back yard operations operating locally. When it comes to food safety these criminals deserve to have the book thrown at them."

The Ulster Unionist MLA also recommended a number of control measures that would make it more difficult to change or swap cattle IDs, including DNA testing and recording that would allow cattle and meat to be traced back to its point of origin.

"Until we decide to do something and take meaningful action, the criminals will continue to have the upper hand," Mr Swann concluded.



(JG/CM)

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