04 Aug Sheep rustling rise could threaten human health as rural crime increases during coronavirus pandemic | UK News
Sheep rustling is rising during the coronavirus pandemic and could create a threat to human health if the meat is sold on the black market, a leading agricultural insurer has warned.
Numbers of animals stolen increased almost 15% year-on-year in April, figures from NFU Mutual have shown.
The company, which insures around three-quarters of the UK’s farmers, puts the cost of livestock theft at £3m.
Rebecca Davidson, from NFU Mutual, said: “Ten years ago, we’d rarely get more than a dozen sheep stolen in one go.
“There are fears this meat could be entering the black market, so it has a huge impact on our farmers who work to very high welfare standards.
“The animals they’ve reared have gone, it has an impact on breeding programmes, the welfare of the animals themselves.
“Also we’re worried about the threat to human health as well because these animals could be slaughtered in unhygienic conditions.”
The rise is part of a wider spike in rural crime in every region and nation in the UK last year as criminal gangs targeted expensive tractors, quad bikes and large numbers of livestock, the firm’s claims data shows.
NFU Mutual’s report revealed the total cost of rural crime rose almost 9% in 12 months to £54 million last year – its highest level for eight years.
The surge has partly been driven by the theft of tractor GPS equipment typically costing between £8,000 and £10,000, “a highly prized item on the shopping lists of rural thieves,” the company said.
The biggest percentage increase was seen in Scotland (44%), although its rural crime cost remains below the UK average.
Northern Ireland suffered the second-highest regional rise of 18%, followed by the east of England (16.9%).
Rising crime is “a huge worry” for farmers, Ms Davidson said, because there’s also a human impact.
“There’s a business interruption, but also a tremendous amount of anxiety for the rest of the family, because farms aren’t just places of work, they’re family homes as well”.
And theft isn’t the only problem farmers are facing as lockdown has seen an “influx” of walkers on their land, and not all have been respecting the countryside.
“Dogs have been let off leads in fields full of livestock. That has a huge cost to farmers because dogs can attack and kill sheep,” Ms Davidson said.