EU legislation requires the violations of animal welfare standards to be sanctioned. Our aim was to evaluate criminal sanctions concerning violations of cattle and pig welfare on Finnish farms. We analysed 196 court cases heard in Finnish district courts from 2011 to 2016. Almost all the cases (95%) concerned the violations of cattle welfare, of which 61% occurred on small farms. The lack of cleanliness and inadequate feeding and watering were the most common reported violations. The median time span from the known start date of the crime to the judgement was nearly two years. Of the cases, 96% resulted in conviction. The court did not perceive the violations as being highly blameworthy as a small fine and a short conditional imprisonment were the most often imposed sanctions. A ban on the keeping of animals was used as a precautionary measure in half of the cases. Veterinarians were shown to have an important role in the initiation of criminal procedures, providing evidence for the police and acting as witnesses. Therefore, it is crucial to achieve a well-functioning collaboration between veterinarians and the police and prosecutors. The expertise of these authorities on animal welfare legislation should also be emphasized to improve the efficacy of the criminal procedures.
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