Australian Trade Deal will Decimate British Farmers and Lower Food Quality in the UK

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the impact on British farming of the newly signed trade deal with Australia.

 So, a trade deal has been signed with our furthermost neighbour on the other side of the world! Great news for Australia but bad news for British farmers as it seems food standards have been lowered in order to get this trade deal. We have been warned repeatedly by the National Farmers Union that there was a danger to safety standards being compromised in order to get a trade deal no matter what adverse impact it will have on our high standards of farming and consumer food safety laws. What do readers think about this trade deal and will it undermine decades of hard work put in by various legal bodies and farming institutions to raise overall welfare standards of farms, farmers and the consumers? Going by the recent headlines since the deal was announced, it seems we as a nation have compromised our food standards; but by how much? This will be determined in the coming months and years as the small print of the trade deal will be put in practice and by then of course its too late! Our concern as a grass-root organisation is that this new trade deal will be a template for all future deals including with our biggest trading partners, the US of A. If you think Australian welfare standards are low and unacceptable wait until we have a trade deal with the US and other countries around the world that have an appalling record when it comes to animal welfare and food standards.

To give you an example, hormone-fed beef is banned in the UK but legal in Australia along with barren battery cages, sow stalls and hot branding! The UK has signed up to the Paris agreement on climate change, but this trade deal shatters the environmental target and goals that this country has set to reduce carbon emissions. Profit seems to be the sole motive and as usual the big corporations and landowners are likely to benefit from the trade deal while small, local farmers will be out-priced within the UK local market to cheap imported food products coming from far away lands. Trade deals are by nature compromising to the country that stands to benefit the least in terms of real impact on ordinary people. Mark Lynch from Oghma Partners said that nations with larger herds, such as Australia, will still benefit from the economies of scale. “Economics dictates that UK farmers are at a scale disadvantage and already marginal producers, such as upland sheep farmers, will logically inevitably suffer. This begs the question that, after the fishery fiasco will farmers be next in the firing line for losing their livelihood and means to support themselves and their families?

Many citizens of this country are making an informed choice of sourcing their foods locally in the hope of reducing their carbon footprint wherever they can. This trade deal, pandemic, job losses and dire financial circumstances of many individuals and families will leave no choice for consumers as most will be forced to buy cheap food imports produced in many cases with very low food safety standards.

We are going backwards and as a consequence future generations will be subjected to low nutritious food in their diets, thus having a knock-on effect on their health.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 2nd July 2021.

Scotland Should Ban Harmful Pesticides and Fertilisers Now!

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on the use of Roundup, the glyphosate-based cancer-causing pesticide in the Scottish Borders.

It was refreshing to read the article on glyphosate by your reporter Hilary Scott in last week’s edition of the paper. When our social enterprise started building Scotland’s first organic training garden on school grounds, little did we know about the complexities of working with the local council. It was quite an eye opener and we realised how much control and no flexibility the councils hold over their local authority areas. But we found innovative ways to circumnavigate the bureaucratic rules that would have stifled our project and would have exposed primary school pupils to harmful chemicals and pesticides. Notice boards of various sizes were put up all across the project in order that council staff that came on their regular rounds avoided spraying anywhere close to the garden. I must acknowledge that frontline staff of the council were more receptive to the idea of keeping our organic garden safe for locals and pupils alike. The legacy of this project continues and more pupils and the community every year are benefitting from this amazing resource on their door step in Innerleithen.

So why did we insist on a no chemical rule to grow food. The reasons are many but to point out a few, one of the myths is that everything needs to be sprayed to enhance and make sure things grow, especially in Scotland where the weather is unpredictable. Scots have been growing multiple crops over hundreds of years with no oil-based fertilisers and pesticides and were actually quite healthy and strong. This also applies across the world. Secondly and this is the most important reason, corporations like Monsanto have been lobbying hard since the 50’s as part of the green revolution to use their products extensively for growing as it had major benefits and would also help farmers eradicate weeds and other pests in their fields. All very well you may say, but the widespread use of these pesticides over decades have not only resulted in the soil losing its nutrients due to over use of these very harmful chemicals but also did whole-scale damage to the ecosystem that crops relied on namely other wildlife that tackled pests in a natural way and helped the overall process of growing crops.

Using Permaculture principles in our organic garden, we worked with nature and not against it as most farming done today. The council argues that Roundup (glyphosate) is perfectly legal! So was DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and Asbestos for crying out loud.

The manufacturer of Roundup, Monsanto, which was acquired by the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer in 2018, is currently facing over 9,000 lawsuits across the US alone from plaintiffs who believe that their exposure to Roundup caused their cancer. Here is hoping the council and our elected councillors act quickly to move towards environmentally sustainable practices. The survival of our planet, environment and life is at stake and we need to act quickly to protect not only our country side but also the health and wellbeing of our children.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 21st May 2021.

Will Scotland vote for a greener and better future?

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on political parties who have campaigned on green issues for the recent Scottish elections.

By tomorrow we will know what path Scotland has chosen. It’s been a very subdued campaigning for the just concluded Scottish parliament elections. Due to Covid restrictions; debates, hustings and door to door campaigning was limited. A blessing in disguise for many of us who had to put up with cold calling on our door steps. This one year has been difficult for all of us in terms of our physical, mental and financial health. Job losses in millions and the benefit system that was supposed to be a safety net, proven to be wholly inadequate and demeaning for those that wanted to apply for financial support. Food prices going through the roof with many staple foods rising by more than 30 percent, and nearly 3 million food parcels handed out to British citizens in March-April 2021 alone!

This on top of the Brexit related chaos and incompetence by the Westminster government and you can see why the majority of people in Scotland are struggling to put food on the table while accumulating debts to pay their bills. In this backdrop we have a global climate catastrophe enfolding before our eyes and the impact of our inaction since the industrial revolution playing havoc with our children’s and future generations dreams.

Having spent the last few weeks scrutinising the green policies of all political parties, we as an organisation are still waiting for bold economic policies that will not only save the environment but also provide financial security in terms of jobs, skills and a humane benefit system for all, especially young people who are facing a dire and bleak future. This lack of manifesto vision may be due to the 5-year election cycle where the political parties focus on short term policies that give immediate results within the term of the parliament, undermining long term goals and objectives and well-being as a society. All the major parties are offering some form of policy to fight climate change but none going far enough.

We have to be thankful in Scotland that since the SNP came to power in 2007, they have been kept in check by the Greens who have supported a minority SNP government in two out of three election victories by supporting them in exchange for a push towards a greener Scotland. Having been involved at various policy level meetings and committees as a grass-root organisation within the framework of the Scottish parliament we have seen significant changes that are now beginning to bear influence and traction among the electorate and the wider economy.

Clean air, good nutritious food, healthy work-life balance and overall good mental health should be the focus going forward as a nation. Here is hoping that whoever wins this election will work towards attaining our climate and environmental goals and keep Scotland green.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 7th May 2021.

Prevention is better than cure

This week Bosco Santimano founder and executive director of social enterprise You Can Cook, shares his thoughts on why we should change our eating habits post Covid and concentrate our efforts more on prevention in the future.

The current pandemic has highlighted one very important factor whereby the majority of deaths caused where due to individuals having an underlying health problem like diabetes and other health related chronic conditions. Up to this point humanity was heading to a very unhealthy lifestyle where ready meals, takeaways and processed foods and drinks became the norm. Growing up in India during the 70’s and 80’s we were fortunate not to be exposed to these harmful processed fast foods laced with chemicals and taste enhancers which have proven to be addictive and many carcinogenic; the legal definition being something that causes cancer. For any food or drinks to be called carcinogenic there must be evidence linking consumption of these types of foods to an increase of specific cancers in our body. Alcohol, red and processed meats, burned and over barbecued foods are just a few examples.

So, what do we need to do going forward post pandemic to mitigate the effects of fast foods in our diets? The first step would be to make these chemically induced foods very expensive via taxation. I am aware it’s not a popular option but essential for the overall positive impact on our children’s health in the long term. Last year the UK government announced its new obesity strategy linking it to eliminating coronavirus, by banning TV and online advertising and promotion of foods and drinks that contain high salt, sugar and fat. To blame people who are obese is not a sensible solution as it will cause more harm than good as we will develop a blaming culture. Covid-19 is an infectious disease and the risk of getting it is by transmission from another individual. Obesity on the other hand is more a deep-rooted problem of our society and is determined by people’s surroundings, awareness or lack of it and economic status. If you are poor its much harder to make these choices as you are literally living on a hand to mouth existence. One thing this virus has shed light on is the disproportionate way minorities, low-income earners and disadvantaged communities have borne the brunt of this pandemic. Analysis by the Food Foundation found that over a quarter of UK households would need to spend more than a quarter of their disposable income after housing costs to meet the government’s healthy eating guide.

What is the solution? Researchers at Tufts University in America made the case that subsidised fruits and vegetables could prevent millions of cases of chronic diseases. They recommended that instead of Doctors prescribing expensive medications, they should instead prescribe more fruits and vegetables! The study argues that this change could saves £billions in healthcare costs. The power of food as medicine which we at You Can Cook have advocated since the beginning is now slowly finding acceptance in the scientific world and about time it did. Prescribed medicines in most instances have minor or major side effects which then have to be treated with more drugs and this keeps the patients on a never-ending conveyor belt that ultimately only benefits Big Pharma!

Many years ago, while researching about how much NHS Scotland spends on preventative initiatives and treatments, I came across the actual figures which was shocking. Less than 1% of the budget was spent as prevention. It’s time for a major overhaul in Scotland of how we wish to proceed as a society; healthy and strong or weak and dependent on pills for the rest of our lives. You choose.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 9th April 2021.

Furlough vs Key workers

Having moved to Peebles in 2002, ‘Stooriefit’ Bosco Santimano gives us his own take on what he feels is the hot topic of the day. This week its “Furlough vs Key Workers”.

Thanks to the Conservatives at Westminster the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic are Furlough workers. 80 percent of salaries paid for up to a limit of £2500 per month to more than 9 million employees across the United Kingdom. Though Furlough is not a recognised term in UK employment law, it is commonly used in the US to lay-off or suspend staff  without pay! Employers can also furlough those who are temporarily unable to work because; they’re ‘shielding’ (told to stay at home by the NHS because of an underlying health condition), someone in their household is shielding, they have childcare responsibilities and/or they’re caring for a vulnerable person in their household. The Furlough scheme; AKA Job Retention Scheme is open only to those workers/employees who are on payroll. Due to the complexities of this scheme, it has been reported that many employers and employees have been abusing the system to maximise their income as the current unemployment benefits like Universal Credits have huge caveats that are discouraging people from applying. Eg. savings threshold and the maximum amount available which is far less than the generous furlough payments. All in all Furlough workers have benefitted immensely from the Chancellors epic scheme.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about Key workers. Before the pandemic these groups of people were considered unskilled workers and were subjected to zero hour contracts, low wages, no sick and holiday pay along with the special privilege of not being given work if they spoke up against their employers. These key workers were instrumental in keeping the country moving when the majority of furloughed staff were holidaying and enjoying their unexpected break which was paid for by the tax payers. Supermarket staff in Peebles, along with carers and other essential workers were forced to work in hazardous conditions eg. no PPE equipment and having no way to play the system by being furloughed so that they could protect themselves and their family and friends from the coronavirus. The salary of these so called key workers are very low and many find it had to make ends meet. Politicians don’t really care about these key workers because if they did, they would be passing legislation to increase the salaries of what we now know as being crucial to keep the economy and country moving. The Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI) is a leading economy research institute based in the Department of Economics at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. The Covid-19 pandemic has awoken many to the role that key workers play in our society. But who exactly are they, and what do we know about them? This (FAI) research helps give us a basic understanding of this group of workers. For example, over a third of workers in Scotland are a key worker, this equates to approximately 920,000 people in Scotland and nearly half are in the public sector! Plus to make matters worse most key workers are women, work part-time and have the lowest wages. It’s interesting to note that Scottish Borders Council’s Chief Executive is a women, drawing a salary over £100,000, plus extra top-ups for any additional duties along with the Leader of the Council being the highest paid elected representative. These two women if they choose to do so, can make a huge difference by raising the salaries of the frontline staff but will choose not to, just in case it upsets the powers that be and may jeopardise their own salaries and positions.

So! The next time these elected representatives tell you to clap for the NHS and Key Workers, please think again and don’t fall for this con and deflection by the Conservatives. They really don’t care about anyone else other than themselves. What the Key Workers now need is a much needed  paid holiday and a raise. No more clapping! Will you as the public make this happen and hold your Politicians accountable?

To all Key Workers in Scotland, some of us have not forgotten you and thank you for all the sacrifices you have made.

Published in The Peeblesshire News on Friday 17th July 2020.

What is a healthy lifestyle?

Bosco Santimano – Founder/Executive Director

What do you mean by living a healthy lifestyle? Over the decades I have asked this question to many of my family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and the community we served since 2007. We realised it was not a very straight forward question and depending on who you spoke to, we always received different answers. Most people you speak to associate a healthy lifestyle to eating fresh vegetable and fruits, less red meat and processed foods and overall some sort of physical exercise. But is this true? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?

Having done my research over the years and engaging with a wide variety of people from all socio-economic backgrounds during our work on the ground delivering cookery and growing sessions, I have come to the conclusion that the factors we use to determine a healthy lifestyle are very narrow and restricted to a few buzz words like, calories, trans fats, no smoking, less consumption of alcohol and so on. Healthy lifestyle unfortunately is also hijacked by the middle class and alternative food fanatics like vegans and vegetarians to further confuse the lay person. Our current lifestyle for work in most jobs are very sedentary and laidback. We are constantly glued to our screens, whether it’s our smart phones, iPads, laptops, computers, television you name it and we are glued like zombies from an apocalypse movie. Children from a very young age are addicted to their screens either by default(a cheap babysitter) or their surroundings. Children are getting obese due to less physical activities and also the food they are given by their parents/carers who have lost the art of cooking from scratch.

As I child growing up in Bombay in a working class area, we had practically nothing compared to what young people have today, but we had the time of our lives. We played outdoors, ate fresh meals, very little sweets as they were expensive and did not have a designated babysitter as the neighbourhood kept a watch on your child. I remember having one obese child in our whole school and it was due to a medical condition. Now I see mostly obese kids, glued to their smart phones during school break. A far cry from what used to be life’s simple pleasures.

So where have we gone wrong and why is healthy lifestyle such a massive money making industry? In modern Britain both parents have to work nowadays just to put food on the table, let alone paying for the mortgage or rent. The biggest factor affecting our health today is “stress”. The number one silent killer that’s taking its toll on society and affecting both young and old. What can we do to reduce our stress levels which will than have a positive impact on our health and our relationships with close family/friends and society in general.

The solution is simple! Take stock of your life, stop chasing money and status and eat to live not live to eat!

Published in the Peeblesshire News on 2nd August 2019.