Violations of animal protection laws: what are the consequences?


Official veterinarians regularly complain that judicial authorities do not recognize clear violations of the animal protection laws and thus do not prosecute them. The Thünen Institute took a closer look at the charges, the problems and possible solutions.  

The aim of the study was to identify potential problems in the prosecution of breaches of animal protection laws and to derive suggestions for improvement. The starting point for the investigation was a concern expressed by official veterinarians, that especially with respect to farm animals, clear violations of the Animal Protection Act are not viewed as such by the judicial authorities (prosecutors, courts) and are thus not prosecuted accordingly under criminal law.  

As no statistical data is available to confirm or dismiss the veterinarians’ statements, two focus group discussions were conducted with official veterinarians and public prosecutors from the federal states of Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.  

In the two groups, a number of problems connected with the prosecution of violations against animal protection laws concerning farm animals were stated concurrently:  

  • the high number of suspensions of proceedings,
  • very long lawsuits and
  • the low levels of penalties.  

The following factors were stated as decisive for the rejection of proceedings by public prosecutors and judges:  

  • little interest in, and commitment to, animal welfare
  • a lack of understanding of the needs of animals and their sense of pain,
  • low levels of knowledge of specific animal-protection laws,
  • understaffing of public prosecutors offices and judges, which lead to overwork, and
  • inadequate staffing of the veterinary offices, which result in deficiencies in reports and documentation.  

Additionally, the discussion with the public prosecutors highlighted the difficulty of proving that breaches of animal protection laws are intentional.

The options for improvement mentioned in the group discussions aim at an intensified exchange of information between veterinary officials and judicial authorities, and to knowledge development for public prosecutors and judges. The establishment of specialised prosecutors and judges was considered as helpful in order to build up and use specific knowledge. Higher penalty levels and the possibility to sanction negligence offenses were additional proposals to achieve better infringements of the Animal Protection Law in Germany.

The Thünen Institute study is a first step towards analyzing the implementation problems of the Animal Protection Act.