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EU-wide surge of metal theft sees governments and farmers fight back

A new law has come into force in England and Wales, obliging scrap dealers to keep a record of who they buy their metal from.

Known as The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, it's the latest attempt by European governments to fight back against a rising trend of metal theft across the EU, sparked by the deepening economic crisis.

Portugal's no exception, as some of its farming communities have taken up arms after been hit hard by scrap scavengers. RT’s Sarah Firth went to meet a group of vigilante farmers in Mondego.

“We’ve already had so much stolen. It’s almost time to harvest the crops and we cannot risk our equipment being stolen again. So we decided to start an armed patrol to protect our property. We’ve told everyone who takes part in the patrols to keep calm, to only use their weapon if they feel their own safety is at risk and to call the police first,” said Amindo Valente, a member of the local farmer patrol squad.

The armed volunteers refused to be filmed with their weapons, as their actions are not officially sanctioned by the government. 

But the farmers say they’re left with no other option but to take up arms, as they’ve already been robbed of metal parts worth a total of around 100,000 euro. 

While local metal recycling companies say the illegal business is booming because it’s lucrative and often unaccountable.

“It’s an industry that’s incredibly hard to regulate. There are laws but as with all laws it’s possible to get around them,” said Rui Alem from the 'Recif Alem Metal Recycling Company.

A new law was passed just last year, granting Portuguese police more powers and tightening industry requirements, including a ban on cash payments for metal scrap. 

These countermeasures also include the implementation of a 'cashless system' – meaning for sales of more than 50 euro, scrapyards should be required to write a check. 

But despite new measures being introduced, metal theft cost the state an estimated 20 million euro last year.

The vigilante farmer patrol in Mondego say they will keep standing guard over their property, until the authorities succeed in rooting out metal theft.