Documenting entrepreneurial opportunism in action: A case study of sheep theft in the UK from a food supply chain perspective

Robert Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
170 Downloads (Pure)


The contemporary rustler is a shrewd businessman, or rogue farmer exploiting food supply chain anomalies. Indeed, the first conviction in the UK for 20 years was a farmer stealing from neighbouring farmers. The theft of sheep in the UK is an expanding criminal enterprise which remains under researched. The purpose of this paper is to examine what is known of the illegal trade and its links to food fraud from a supply chain perspective with an emphasis on food integrity issues.

There is a dearth of current viable literature on livestock theft in a western context making it necessary to turn to socio-historical research and to official documents such as those published by the NFU and other insurance companies to build up a picture of this illegal practice. This is supplemented by documentary research of articles published in the UK press.

From this raw data a typology of rustlers is developed. The findings point to insider “supply chain” knowledge being a key facet in the theft of livestock. Other examples in the typology relate to urban thieves wrestling live sheep into a car and to industry insiders associated with the abattoir sector.

Research limitations/implications
The obvious limitations is that as yet there are few detected cases of rustling in the UK so the developing typology of rustlers is sketchy. Another limitation is that much of the evidence upon which the typology is developed is anecdotal.

The typology should prove helpful to academics, insurance companies, investigators, industry insiders and farmers to help them understand this contemporary crime and how to prevent its spread. It also sheds light on food integrity in relation to the purchase and consumption of the end product in that customers expect to be purchasing legally and ethically reared animal products.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-121
JournalBritish Food Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Documenting entrepreneurial opportunism in action: A case study of sheep theft in the UK from a food supply chain perspective'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this