Cattle rustling is becoming a major problem in County Clare, with more than five incidents taking place on the county’s farms over the past nine months.

Thieves are now understood to be entering farms at night, feeding animals under the cover of darkness in order to gain their trust, before attempting to steal them at a later date.

According to Superintendent Derek Smart, thieves are now able to gain access to cattle ear tags on the black-market, allowing them to reintroduce stolen animals into the food chain.

At present, all cattle must have a valid ear tag, which tracks the animal from birth to slaughter. The accurate tagging of cattle is important to ensure the traceability of meat – to ensure that meat from animals is labeled correctly. This is important not just in terms of preventing stolen cattle from entering the food chain, but also from preventing horse and donkey meat from being labeled incorrectly as beef.

“In the last six or nine months we have had five incidents with cattle being stolen in Clare. We work very closely with the Department of Agriculture officials on this,” said Superintendent Derek Smart at a meeting of the Joint Policing Committee of Clare County Council and Clare Gardai.

East Clare councilor Pat Hayes also confirmed to the Clare People newspaper that people have been entering farms at night, hoping to build up a relationship with animals before attempting a theft.

“There has been plenty of evidence that they [the rustlers] have been feeding the cattle in order to gain their trust which is incredible,” Hayes said.

Mayor of Clare Joe Arkins said there could be another horse meat scandal in Ireland if tags are allowed to be traded on the black market.

“I have had several hundred of cattle since the new tagging system came in and there is no problem getting new tags. I think there is need for some sort of vetting system before a farmer can get new tags,” he said.