Rising meat prices and the recession has sparked a new crimewave in cattle rustling, landowners have been warned.
As incidents of scrap metal theft wanes due to plummeting prices, thieves could now be looking at stealing animals and opening up back street butchers to make money.
The region’s farmers have been warned to be increasingly vigilant as livestock looks increasingly attractive to criminals due to a current shortage of animals for slaughter.
The warning came after more than 500 pigs were stolen from one of the region’s few rare breed farms, Packington Pork in Hopwas, near Tamworth. The pigs are believed to be worth more than £25,000 and it is likely they are being kept in a secret location to be fattened up for slaughter. Pig prices have risen rapidly in the last 12 months with the price of the average pig increasing to £45 compared with £30 a year ago. An increasing amount of livestock is now being exported due to the weak pound.
Barney Kay, general manager of the National Pig Association, said: “The pig industry has been through hell in the last few years and just when people are beginning to make a bit of money this happens.
“Let’s be very clear about this, 500 pigs being stolen is extremely rare. I have been involved in this industry for ten years and have never heard of anything like this before.”
Oliver Cartwright, from the National Farmer’s Union, raised concerns that the pork taken from Hopwas may be unfit for human consumption due to the age of the pigs but still may find its way into the food chain.
He said: “We would be very concerned about poor quality meat hitting back street butchers after a theft like this. We would warn all pig farmers in the region to look at their security, invest in lighting, sensors and a better fencing and report anything suspicious to the police.”
Rob Mercer, the manager of Packington Pork is still coming to terms with the scale of the theft.
He said: “I have no doubt that this was an organised gang, who probably staked the place out and planned it in detail before they struck.
“It would have taken at least six men more than an hour to herd that many pigs into a truck so they clearly knew what they were doing.
“I also have no doubt that they are now being fed at another farm somewhere else because they were all at least six months from slaughter.
A spokesman for Staffordshire Police said: “This was a well organised, well executed crime and is the first time animals have been stolen on this scale in Staffordshire for years.
“But we have had information from the public regarding a suspicious vehicle seen in the area and are currently following multiple lines of inquiry.
“In the meantime we are asking for farmers to be vigilant and on the look-out for people on the fringe of the farming community who may suddenly have more sheep then they did before.”