Reality Bites as UK needs Farmworkers from the EU

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director 

What a fine mess we find ourselves in during the COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world. The sector that was already struggling before the virus hit us was farming. Due to the rise of English nationalism which was followed by Brexit and the unwelcoming attitudes of all Brexiteers to European nationals; we now fully understand the contributions to sectors like farming made by nationals from Romania and other eastern European nations. Citizens of these countries were doing the jobs British folk considered lowly and beneath them. Take into consideration that these jobs are mostly low paid and seasonal and also having to wake up at 4am! You get the picture why these jobs are not popular with the locals. Farmers faced the first wave of labour shortages soon after the EU referendum in 2016 and only got worse over the years until the final nail in the coffin was delivered by the people of England who voted overwhelming to elect a Conservative & Unionist government to get Brexit done. Where does that leave us now? Farmers are now complaining that they need over 70,000 seasonal workers this year from Britain to make up those workers who will not be coming or can’t come due to the hostile nature and immigration rules imposed by the Tories on the whole of the United Kingdom. Repeated pleas made by the Scottish government to have separate immigration rules for Scotland has fallen on deaf years by Boris Johnson and his government.

“Feed the Nation” was a major hiring drive initiated by the three main recruiters(HOPS, Concordia & Fruitful Jobs) in agriculture to attract locals to fill the jobs now left vacant during the coronavirus pandemic. It attracted more than 27,000 applicants  but just over 4000 took up an offer for an interview. Other EU countries like Germany are allowing over 80,000 seasonal farm workers to come from Eastern Europe to help harvest crops during the peak season. All workers will have to be flown by air, undergo the necessary medical tests and follow social distancing guidelines while on the farms.

There is a simple solution to this problem! Why don’t all the Brexiteers now come forward to save queen and country? Brexit means Brexit! So please signup along with your family and friends who voted to leave the EU and save Britain once again; by getting off your backside and taking back control of your farms from EU/foreign workers. As this goes to print six charter flights have already landed in England bringing around 400 workers from Romania in the first of many flights in the coming weeks. Fruit and vegetable pickers will be specially flown in to meet demand and shortage of farm workers. 99 percent of seasonal agriculture jobs are filled by eastern Europeans, namely Romanians and Bulgarians according to the Office of National Statistics as reported in 2018.

Scotland is at a big disadvantage in this crisis as part of the United Kingdom as it has no powers to operate and do what it thinks is right for its farmers and citizens.

It will be an absolute scandal if crops are left to rot due to a shortage of farm workers and this will only make the current shortage of food worse, expensive and beyond the reach of normal citizens. Food poverty rates have already spiralled out of control during the lockdown and the battle to feed the nation would be lost due to political apathy and negligence. Brexit will just tip us over the edge.

It’s not too late to change course.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 1st May 2020.

Radical changes to our food policies

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

It’s been a week now since we are in semi-lockdown and what a emotional roller coaster it has been for all of us here in the UK and around the globe. Since news went viral on social media that 3 cases of coronavirus have been identified in the Borders, locals in the region went berserk with shoppers driving to all the main supermarkets and panic buying food and toilet paper! I am yet to understand the logic behind toilet paper, but never mind. Pasta, tin foods, bread, fish, chicken, cheap fresh foods, hand sanitisers, alcohol were flying off the shelves within hours. By next day the supermarkets were looking like a warzone or as if it were attacked by zombies! The apocalypse was truly here. Many elderly and vulnerable adults were left with no access to their normal shopping items as these maniacs went on a wild rush to hoard as many items as possible. I saw cars and people carriers being stuffed with toilet paper and all other fresh food items that would in my opinion either be frozen or wasted in a couple of days.

Unfortunately I was right as news reports from all over the country saw a huge spike in food waste! What a disgrace and a typical human response in times of crisis. Many people become selfish, greedy and paranoid and in these difficult times its always the rich that can buy and hoard goods in their big houses and garages while the majority of us have to pray and hope that we don’t have to resort to cannibalism to survive. Just kidding by the way! Food and other essentials are slowly making their way onto the shelves and thankfully people are realising that we are all in this together and sanity seems to be coming back into our lives as we don’t want the scenario of a Mad Max movie, where instead of oil we are fighting and killing for food.

You Can Cook was setup in 2007 after doing my research and finding out a few key issues with food and the supply chain. First, many people did not know how to cook from scratch, second over 70% of our food came from abroad, a disaster waiting to happen as the current crisis clearly shows us the fallacy of this policy, and third we don’t grow enough food on these islands to feed the whole population, while government and European Union policies dictated paying farmers grants and subsidies not to grow food! This economic policy is what has led to a big divide between the rich and poor countries, whereby we in the developed West are using developing and third world countries to grow food on our behalf while the citizens of those countries are forced to grow foods for the western markets eg. soya, at the expense of not growing their own staple foods.

On these islands growing food has never been so important and we as part of a holistic approach to tackling these problems work to alleviate and empower communities across Scotland through cooking and growing. Please visit our website www.youcancook.org for more health related information and loads of recipes to try while you and your family are self-isolating.

Take care.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on 3rd April 2020.

What happens to our food rights post Brexit?

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

This week Bosco Santimano  shares his thoughts on the UK leaving the European Union.

Finally its happened! We have officially left the European Union for “Unity, Peace and stability”. It’s taken three and a half years, three Prime Ministers and two elections to finally get to this stage. The initial process is now complete and the negotiations begin for what may turn out to be an eventful year ahead, especially for Scotland and Northern Ireland. As an organisation we are saddened to see the state of affairs as Westminster politics takes centre stage and holds the rest of the countries in this United Kingdom to ransom. Can we make it alone as an Independent nation or group of nations outside the EU? of course we can. Our concern is mainly about food, environment, climate change and health of Scottish residents post Brexit. Having personally worked closely with the EU and the Scottish government in the past it concerns me that all the safeguards that the EU put in place for our health and other social benefits will be removed or watered down to get trade agreements with the biggest shark in the world! America. Chlorinated chicken is the least of our worries as environmental laws and other climate related initiatives may be watered down to suit the Americans to get a free trade deal. Great Britain may be in the process of becoming Little Britain by the end of this year if we the people become complacent and think all is now lost.

As an organisation working at the grassroots and campaigning for equal health and access to cheap and good food rights for all Scottish residents, we will be specifically looking at costs of fresh foods, post Brexit, until December 2020 and beyond 2021 when supposedly we will have a trade deal with the EU. Prices of essential food and other items have increased by over 40% since 2007-08 recession and then again after the 2016 EU referendum by another 30%. I have taken a conservative figure compared to what the actual figure is; i.e. over 50 to 60%! Wages and benefits have not increased during this period, hence the establishment of the United Kingdom of Food Banks which have been setup all over this G7 country for the poor and working class. We did and in some cases did not support many regulations that were coming out of the EU over the years but many people fail to understand that those laws and regulations that were passed were fully approved by the governments of all the 28 EU nations, a fact conveniently left out by all right wing newspapers and tabloids and politicians. The EU has been proactive in banning harmful pesticides and fertilisers that scientific evidence proved was harming the environment and its people. American Corporations are waiting in glee to ravage this country with their toxic chemicals and products. Will Genetically Modified Seeds (GMO’s) now be allowed to grow in Scotland?

We hope not.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on 7th February 2020.

Food Labelling – A Legal Requirement

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Recent headlines in the media demonstrated the need for food labelling on all prepared and cooked foods in restaurants, take-aways and supermarkets selling ready meals/ready to use sauces, etc. No one should die because they ate food, that had an ingredient that was not meant to be, in the food, in the first place! There have been too many cases of individuals losing their lives while eating out and this has to stop.

Owen Carey, a young man died while out celebrating his 18th birthday in 2017 when he ordered a chicken burger at a famous burger chain. Owen informed staff about his allergy but was not told that the dish contained buttermilk, the hidden ingredient that proved fatal, as he was allergic to dairy. Owen suffered a severe anaphylactic shock after eating only half the chicken and feeling his lips tingling and experiencing stomach problems. He collapsed under an hour later never to wake up again.

A similar case happened to Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who died in 2016 after an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette which contained sesame seeds!

Currently the law states that as a food business you must follow the allergen information rules set in EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation. This means that you must;

  1. provide allergen information to the consumer for both pre-packed and non-prepacked food or drink
  1. handle and manage food allergens adequately

Food establishments also need to make sure that all staff are trained about allergens. By law you also need to tell your customers if any food products you sell or provide contain any of the main 14 allergens as an ingredient. Some of the 14 allergens are: celery; cereals containing gluten; crustaceans – such as prawns, crabs and lobsters; eggs; fish; lupin; milk; molluscs – such as mussels and oysters; mustard; tree nuts – including almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts; peanuts; sesame seeds; soybeans; sulphur dioxide and sulphites (if they are at a concentration of more than ten parts per million). As you can see it’s a complicated process and more needs to be done to reduce the risk to consumers.

One question that no one is asking is why are so many people having allergies and intolerances to food? Experts have various opinions about this but some independent Scientists and researchers have pointed the finger at our over use of chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides since the 1950’s! Plus the use of synthetic, laboratory made products that have been added to food to increase its shelf life along with additives to increase our consumption of processed foods. Plus can the Tories guarantee that they will not dilute or remove existing laws that were set up by the EU to protect consumers all over Europe?

As an organisation, we set out to focus on cooking food from scratch, as this is the only way to know what truly is in your food. Let’s all get back to basics and take back control of our health from the food lobby.

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 4th October 2019.

Aspartame! Hidden danger in our drink.

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

In this column I will be tackling one hidden ingredient; Aspartame! What is this ingredient and why is it so valuable to corporations? In a nutshell, aspartame is a substitute for sugar or in other words an artificial sweetener that was accidentally discovered by a scientist researching an anti-ulcer medication in the mid 60’s and is composed of two amino acids; aspartic acid and phenylalanine. If you see any drink that has “Sugar free’ be warned, as for a majority of us, this could be worse than sugar itself.

Aspartame is mainly found in a number of sugar free food products like fizzy drinks, cereals, ice cream, chewing gum, diet cola’s, etc. to name a few. Chances that you are having this in your daily diet is probably very high and unavoidable in many cases. So what is this magic  ingredient? To give you an example aspartame is 200 times sweeter than refined sugar! 1 gram of aspartame has roughly 4 calories while 8 grams of sugar has 32 calories! That’s a huge saving if you only look at the headline grabbing banner. Unfortunately for the general public this sweet con has one big downside, i.e. bulging waistlines and links to obesity.  One way aspartame and other non-nutritive sweeteners may affect body weight is by increasing people’s appetite, which may lead to a higher food consumption. News reports over the last few decades have claimed that aspartame causes or increases the risk of headaches, dizziness, seizures, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, etc, and the list continues. Currently there is insufficient scientific evidence to confirm or refute these claims of aspartame’s role in the above mentioned associated risks.

In July 2017 a systematic review was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal which should make us stop and think twice before consuming any sugar free products.  The researchers also noted an increase in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and cardiovascular events in those who used sugar-free sweeteners like aspartame. Evidence found did not clearly support the intended benefits of non-nutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of non-nutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased Body Mass Index (BMI) and cardiometabolic risk.

The primary outcome of the research showed change in BMI while the secondary outcomes included changes in body weight; adiposity; glucose metabolism; and incidence of overweight/obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other cardiorenal outcomes.

Some of the alternates to sugar free sweeteners are stevia, which is plant based and is 200 times sweeter or monk fruit extract which is calorie-free and up to 250 times more sweeter than sugar. Both these are natural sweeteners but care should be taken to have them in moderation and if you have a sweet tooth like me try eating fruits and alternatively don’t skip or delay any meals as this will also contribute to you losing the battle to keep in check your sweet desires and increase your snacking habit.

I know!

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 6th September 2019.

Back to Basics – Cook Your Own Food

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

Our eating habits have changed dramatically since the early 80’s in this country. What with the coming of take-aways and supermarkets providing ready meals for every household budget. Health is this country was relatively good as people ate local food that was mostly available during seasons, people had time and knew how to cook. Fast forward today and we see a massive increase of diet related illnesses eg. heart, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. The NHS is under huge strain to deal with what is becoming an epidemic. Our organisation was setup in 2007 because I came across a research document called ‘Obesity in Scotland’ from the Scottish Public Health Observatory. The key messages were; Nations that make an early change to sustainability, both in terms of peak oil and climate change could reap substantial health dividends which includes reduced obesity, less inequality and enhanced well-being; Obesity is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, kidney failure, arthritis, back pain and psychological damage and decreases life expectancy. For example, type 2 diabetes is almost 13 times more likely to occur in obese women than in women of normal weight. Obesity in Scotland is linked to nearly 500,000 cases of high blood pressure; Obesity and its consequences cost the NHS in Scotland an estimated £171 million in 2001 and finally, Scotland has one of the highest levels of obesity, second only to the United States of America. (Today Scotland is 3rd behind Mexico, still a long way to go).

All the above figures have increased substantially. Reports like these have come and gone and we have not seen any real policy shift and change from any government as the food and drink lobby is very powerful.

The current high profile news is “Processed Foods”. Governments all across the world are tackling this problem through taxation! Unfortunately, it does not take a rocket scientist to see the ulterior motives of ministers who want to raise more money to balance their budgets. We already are taxing alcohol, cigarettes, etc but these measures are not stopping people from accessing these simple pleasures. We all know now what the tobacco companies did a few decades ago in order to keep their profits high. They mixed addictive chemicals into their cigarettes to hook customers for life. We now have a new term called “ultra-processed foods”. The same principle of addiction applies. These types of foods are apparently more dangerous than ever for human consumption. Breakfast cereals, chicken nuggets and ice-cream are some of the main culprits which leads to poor health and early death.

This is one of the reasons You Can Cook was setup, so as to raise awareness of the dangers of fast foods. The only way to eat good food is to cook it yourself from scratch with raw ingredients as all the additives, chemicals, preservatives and E numbers are completely avoided from your diet.

This is one area where we need to go back to basics.