Police in Somerset are warning that stolen meat from rustled sheep may end up in the food chain.
In the last fortnight, there have been five incidents of sheep thefts across the county – in East Chinnock, Mark, South Petherton, Ilminster, Long Sutton and Langport.
The Langport incident saw 240 sheep, consisting of Poll Dorsets, Suffolks and Charolais rams and ewes stolen from a field overnight in south Somerset on 24 July.
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Although thieves mostly took sheep, other animals including pigs and geese were stolen.
The thefts are causing concern for Avon and Somerset Police, which said operations targeting livestock thieves earlier this year had resulted in hardly any incidents of note.
PC Katy Drabble of the rural crime team said: “In the last two weeks we have seen a dramatic increase with six incidents of sheep thefts in a short space of time.
“These thefts have a huge impact on the livelihoods of the individual farmers and smallholders.
“Not only do they have to buy new stock but it takes a long-time to build up a well-established flock again; the long-term impact is massive. We are looking into these incidents and investigations are ongoing.”
Police are asking rural communities in Somerset to be vigilant for anyone moving livestock around, particularly at night.
“If you see people in fields or with vehicles containing livestock at night, please give us a call – we would rather ascertain a person is there legitimately, than have to deal with a subsequent theft,” added PC Drabble.
Meat trade warning
Officers are encouraging farmers to join the FarmWatch team, which enables information to be shared quickly across the farming community.
Anyone in the meat trade who is buying livestock should check the provenance and documentation of the animals.
“If someone is offering you animals/butchery products for a price that seems too good to be true, then it probably is,” said PC Drabble.
“Don’t create a market in which thieves can operate. Buying stolen property is an offence.”
Anyone with information on the livestock thefts should call the Somerset rural crime team on 101.