Organised crime gangs are becoming increasingly involved with the theft of cattle - UUP leader
Nearly 11,000 cattle have been reported either lost or stolen in Northern Ireland in just three years.
UUP leader Robin Swann warned that organised crime gangs are becoming increasingly involved with the theft of cattle across the province.
He 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 three years. The reality is that a large number have been stolen."
Mr Swann said he was "shocked" after requesting the figures from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs at how many cattle had been reporting missing or stolen over the last three years.
The figures show in 2018 alone 3,838 head of cattle disappeared, compared to 2,807 in 2011/12.
"Cattle rustling is nothing new to Northern Ireland but the problem is evidently getting worse," he Mr Swann said.
“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.
“Rather than being simple opportunist thefts however, I suspect a large number of these cattle are being stolen to order."
The UUP leader said that from discussions with members of the PSNI he believes the people behind the thefts are part of wider criminal gangs.
It is understood once cattle are stolen their tags are changed before they are later smuggled with fake documentation into factories in the Irish Republic.
Mr Swann added: “For those that aren’t sent across the border they are most likely slaughtered in backyard processing facilities.
“With the disarray in our local public finances, the PSNI are also finding it increasingly difficult to do all that they want to. Even the number of officers has long since fallen below what we officially need just to deliver the minimum standard of service."
In 2016, 3,217 animals were reported lost or stolen. This rose to 3,700 in 2017 and 3,838 in 2018.
“It’s also long past the time that we seriously started to think about a new system that would make it much more difficult to change or swap cattle IDs.
"At the minute it’s only a case of removing an ear tag, so perhaps voluntary DNA testing and recording should be made available to whoever wants to.
"That would allow cattle, as well as meat, always being able to be traced back to its actual point of origin. Samples are already taken with BVD testing so there is already an everyday precedent.
“Until we decide to do something and take meaningful action, the criminals will continue to have the upper hand.”
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