Pig Thefts a Byproduct of Spiking Pork Prices

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The down economy has fueled theft of all sorts: shoplifting, bank robberies – and even pig heists.

According to the Wall Street Journal, around 1,000 pigs have been stolen from Iowa and Minnesota farms in recent months. Thieves work under the cover of night, supposedly loading hogs into trailers and driving off. They are driving miles down dirt roads and bypassing deadbolts on doors to snatch the plump piglets. In August, 594 pigs were stolen from a single Minnesota farm – a heist that surely took more than one return trip. “Whoever did it is certainly livestock-savvy,” detective Kent Bauman said.

(WATCH: The Dirt on Pigs in Factory Farms)

The thefts are spiking because pork prices are at an all-time high thanks to soaring international demand. Farmers are earning around $200 per pig, the highest price in decades, agricultural economics professor Ronald Plain told the Journal. But corn prices are also exorbitant, driving up the cost of feeding pigs. Many farmers have scaled back their operations because of the economy, so stealing fully-grown hogs has become a profitable enterprise for unscrupulous thieves.

And it’s not easy to track down stolen pigs. “They all look alike,” Mitchell County, Iowa sheriff Curt Younker told the New York Times. That’s why many victims of pig theft are unlikely to see their pigs again. Very likely they’re mixed into the thieves own farms or promptly resold for slaughter. “My guess is that they’re bacon and pork chops already,” Ryan Bode, a pork theft victim, told the Times.

Nick Carbone is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @nickcarbone. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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