In May 2024, the Scottish Government published its annual farmed cows data, showing that it is leading the way in protecting the environment and reducing animal suffering as the number of cows in the country has dropped to a record low. Although this decline can only be seen in cows and bulls raised for their flesh rather than their milk, it reduces the number of animals being killed and reduces the contribution to climate change, as cows produce CO2 and methane. 

The new figures show the country’s cow population is now 1.59 million, a huge improvement from the worst days in 1974 when the herd totalled 2.68 million. However, unfortunately, the farming of cows for meat remains a significant part of Scottish agriculture, with around 10,000 farms producing 165,000 tonnes of flesh a year. In 2012, Scotland had 705,564 female cows raised for meat, but that had fallen steadily to 612,262 by last December. However, the number of cows in the Scottish dairy industry was 264,370 in 2012, increasing slightly to 266,002 by the end of last year.

It has been reported that farmers claim the decline has partly been caused by the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, and the increase of knowledge that meat from cows is unhealthy and bad for the environment. This is good news for the vegan movement as it seems to confirm its campaigning is working. Another factor that may have influenced the figures is the rush to plant trees to help mitigate the climate change crisis, which means a loss of land for grazing.  Scotland is also one of the main areas where alternative ways to use land outside animal agriculture have been pioneered. The Scotland-based organisation Stockfree Farming has identified more than 100 alternative uses to land and is supporting many farmers who are transitioning away from animal agriculture. Rebecca Knowles, Founding Director of Stockfree Farming, explained to UnchainedTV the three main ways farmers can stop using animals:  “The three routes are growing crops for human consumption, restoring native trees and ecosystems — rewilding essentially — and the third one is diversifying into non-traditional agricultural enterprises — those related to tourism, retail, alternative energies, outdoor activities, etc… In the UK we have enough existing arable land to provide for the caloric, nutrient, and protein needs of the entire human population. If we actually use that land for growing food for human consumption, we can provide for ourselves. In the UK, 55% of arable land is used to grow food for livestock. In Scotland, it’s around 50%… which is crazy.”

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.