STOCK theft had cost the South African economy more than R430m in losses during the 2011-12 financial year, the Red Meat Industry Forum said on Friday, and not enough was being done to bring the crime under control.

Earlier this year, agriculture association Agri SA said that the industry lost about R1bn a year to the theft of farm equipment, livestock and other produce.

The forum said the increase in stock theft could not be blamed on police alone.

Noncompliance by livestock farmers who did not properly mark their stock, a regulatory requirement, was complicating the matter, making it impossible for the police to investigate claims of stock theft.

Dave Ford, of the Red Meat Industry Forum, said the stock theft problem had spread to all kinds of livestock, with losses of goats valued at R42m and sheep at R92m last year alone. Losses in the commercial and emergent cattle farming sector were estimated at R295m, he said.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) Stock Theft Unit on Friday warned that livestock buyers such as farmers, speculators, stock auctions, feedlots and abattoirs were sometimes unknowingly recipients of stolen livestock. Consequently, they were breaking the law and could be liable for prosecution and fines.

The unit said the Animal Identification Act made provision for the compulsory marking of livestock, while the Stock Theft Act controlled the movement of livestock within regions and provinces.

"Both these acts have been put in place to support the industry and the SAPS to combat stock theft and make it easier to recover stolen livestock," the SAPS said.

Mr Ford concurred that many livestock owners did not comply with the provisions of the acts and the "basic requirements" to prevent stock theft.

The SAPS said that many stock theft cases were being lost in court because of disputes regarding the positive identification of stolen livestock and the ability to prove ownership. "If an animal is marked with a registered brand or tattoo, disputes will be avoided," the police said.

The Red Meat Industry Forum requested all parties to make sure that all livestock owners urgently registered a unique brand mark in their name and applied it to all livestock in their possession, as prescribed in the act.

The forum said that all livestock buyers, auctioneers, feedlots and abattoirs had to confirm livestock ownership or refuse to take ownership of animals that were not marked or where the necessary certification was not supplied.