Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Police urge farmers to band together

Farmers wanting to combat animal and equipment theft should form rural community watch teams, Western Bay police warn.

Senior Constable John Fitzgerald, of Katikati, said community support teams were the best way to stay ahead of thieves, who targeted diesel and electric fences in the area.

"The fences are probably being used by people growing cannabis," he said.

Police also urge farmers to join Snap, an online anti-theft initiative. The Snap database enables owners to register their property and valuable possessions. It can be accessed at snap.org.nz.

Mr Fitzgerald said there were also reports of rustling in the area.

"There is the odd report of a couple of sheep carcasses or offal left over which indicates [stock theft] has occurred, but it's very rare."

New Zealand's national farming body has lashed out at the underground meat trade for fuelling stock thefts and selling unsafe meat.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said those participating in the "pub trade" were to blame for rustling.

"The most distressing thing we have is the theft of our animals.

"It is a constant issue and a constant concern for rural New Zealand."

Mr Wills, a Hawke's Bay farmer, said rustling was sometimes carried out by gangs, often armed with guns and knives. It usually happened in waves and was punishing for any farmer.

"A good ewe is $100-plus and a good cattle beast is easily $1000-plus.

"So it's a significant financial loss to farmers, but it's also the emotional cost."

There had been incidences where farmers had found their own animals butchered and strewn across paddocks, Mr Wills said.

"Others have walked out to see someone shooting up their animals [and this is] what they use to make a living, what they need to pay the mortgage."

He warned those buying into the "hot meat" market, which was popular among pub owners for its cheap prices, were taking a serious health risk.

"We are required to keep detailed record about any animal remedies and drenching we give.

"There are strict protocols about when we sell animals [and] there are things we call withholding periods, which prevent us from selling animals within a certain period to being drenched and receiving remedies."

Meat from rustled animals could contain drenching chemicals, posing a serious risk to human health, he said.

And in an effort to combat rustling gangs, a formal agreement between the Federated Farmers and police was signed last year.

"We now have a memorandum of understanding with the New Zealand police," Mr Wills said.

"Farmers need to be vigilant and report any stock which has gone missing or been taken."

This is important, as many farmers hesitate to report crimes to police, which makes it difficult to gauge how big the problem is, Mr Wills said.

"And under no circumstances, should farmers take the law into their own hands as they [rustling gangs] often come armed with guns, knives and dogs," he added.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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