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Page last updated at 07:00 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 08:00 UK
Thieves 'targeting farm animals'

By Rebecca Pukiello
Newsbeat reporter

First it was scrap metal, then oil and now thieves are targeting farmyard animals. Newsbeat's been told that thousands of pigs, sheep and cattle have been taken across the UK over the last year, as the price of meat becomes more expensive.

The increase in animal thefts has been linked to rising meat costs

Twenty-eight-year-old pork farmer Rob Mercer has experienced first-hand how these thieves operate.

Someone broke in and stole five hundred pigs while Rob was sleeping.

He said: "I was really, really upset and to have them taken away like that is very, very gutting and disappointing."

Rob Mercer
Rob says he's gutted about the loss of five hundred pigs

The thieves came through a great big metal security barrier and a fence at the back of the farm, loaded up the animals and left via the front of the farmyard.

Insurance company National Farming Union Mutual says most of the time the theft involves a few animals, but organised criminals can take hundreds.

Another farm in Herefordshire also had two hundred sheep stolen recently.

Rob is convinced that the credit crunch has something to do with it.

He said: "It's because of the economic climate. General theft is on the increase and animals and livestock are worth more money, so they're a more attractive item to steal."

The rising cost of meat is being blamed for the problem: prices have gone up by 20 per cent in the past year.

Too good to be true?

There are now concerns about the illegal slaughter of these animals for sale on the cheap.

The Food Standards Agency says if you buy meat from the back of a van and the price sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Rob says he finds the situation "very disturbing and very worrying".

He added: "We farm everything to a very high welfare standard here and will those animals be looked after as well now?"

Insurers estimate rustling costs UK farmers £3.5m a year.

The advice from the Food Standards Agency is to make sure the meat you buy can be traced back to an approved abattoir.

They warn that buying from an unknown source you have no idea whether the meat's been stored at the right temperature and run the risk that harmful bacteria might have had the chance to grow.

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