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Clean energy in the state budget?

The party PAN (People Animals Nature) is the new political force in the Assembly of the Republic, something that hasn’t happened since 1999 when the Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc) won its first seats. Thirty-nine-year-old André Silva is PAN’s spokesman and sole deputy. Trained as a civil engineer, he is a vegetarian, lives in Lisbon and has a vegetable plot at home where he does composting; he does biodanza, dives, and aims for his party “to be part of the solution”. During his childhood in the home of his grandparents, who were farmers in Vilar de Besteiros in the municipality of Tondela, he witnessed the beginning of the “intensive livestock farming of poultry and cattle that started in the 1980s”. Nowadays, he raises issues such as animal protection and conservation of the ecosystem in parliament. His ideology is neither left- nor right-wing, but centred on a holistic vision that is unusual in politics. André Silva has been making his presence felt as a different kind of deputy. ECO123 spoke to him in Lisbon.

If you went from being a deputy to Prime Minister tomorrow, what would our country be like?

Tomorrow, straight away, it would be exactly the same (laughs). PAN proposes support for industries, for activities that are economically viable and can create employment, that enable us to develop our social fabric but are sustainable and ethical.

What are PAN’s objectives?

We aim to raise issues that other political parties don’t normally discuss because they don’t prioritize them. Legal interests, animal rights and social questions. We work too much, it is important to create a society where it is not work that dominates, we need to reduce the number of working hours. In countries in northern Europe, people work less and produce more. Managing to think about alternative ways of distributing income so that people have greater autonomy.

And nature?

This is one of our concerns, right now we are discussing GMOs (genetically modified organisms), which were rejected by the overwhelming majority in central government, by the PS and PSD, and which continue to fuel the genetic engineering lobby. We have also had various discussions with the Prime Minister about the contracts for oil concessions and extraction, which we regard as terrible.

What are the alternatives to GMOs?

Portugal does not need genetically modified organisms and should move towards organic agriculture. When it is said that we have to have GMOs to cope with our climate, because a specific crop does not adapt or has a particular pest, the answer is that our climate is fantastic for specific crops. So, let’s invest in the crops that are appropriate for our country. We cannot try to grow maize throughout the country, and that is what we are trying to do at present. If we don’t have the right conditions for growing maize, we can grow other indigenous products and crops that are more suited to the climate in each region, and that also produce value.

Could organic agriculture be the way to go?

If we succeed in following a path, I’m not saying exclusively, but towards organic agriculture, we would succeed in being highly competitive in Europe, in terms of market share, and sell our organic produce to the rest of Europe. We can only be competitive by doing something different. What we are doing is the same as everyone else, intensive agriculture, full of agro-chemicals which degrades our soil, uses up our water resources, which is putting an end to our biodiversity, and we are unable to compete as far as the relationship between costs and final price is concerned. The creation of a programme of organic farming would enable us to regenerate the soil, sell our produce abroad, as well as reducing the number of patients in our hospital beds through nutrition.

André Silva
André Silva

And doing away with GMOs?

In the European Union there are only two countries continuing to produce GMOs: Portugal and Spain. The genetic engineering industry says that there are absolutely no dangers, others say that there are dangers for health and for the impact on the environment. Until we are certain that organically modified organisms are or are not harmful to health and biodiversity we should not allow them to be consumed. At present, the genetic engineering industry, with the connivance of those who govern us, is making us all into guinea-pigs so that in ten or fifteen years we can draw conclusions about whether GMOs are harmful or not for human health. Let’s wait and see.

Have you expressed opposition to the government subsidies to the milk and meat industries?

It astonishes me that the PSD and the CDS PP defend the free market economy and are always protecting the dairy, meat, imported meat and GMO industries and lobbies. For decades on end, it has been the Portuguese government that has been supporting them, and they should find alternatives within the sector. PAN recognises that they form an important sector in the country’s economic activity, but we believe that subsidies should not be given to keep the industry as it is, but that it should diversify: activities, industries, agriculture or foodstuffs that are healthier and contain fewer chemicals, these are the ones that should have more support and lower taxes.

What underlies this position proposed by the PAN?

We are talking about an industry whose production is highly damaging for the environment, the milk industry alone contributes 6% of the national total of greenhouse gases produced in this country, it is an industry that is extremely harmful for surface or deep water resources, and which pollutes our soil. In addition, there are several studies that tell us that milk is not a super food, or a good foodstuff, but rather a bad food and that there are many contraindications for its consumption.

And in terms of the meat industry?

The meat industry and pig rearers are among the worst polluters in the country. According to several studies, meat consumption is the cause of many diseases. Just now and based on a series of 800 studies over more than 20 years from different countries, the WHO (World Health Organisation) has said that the consumption of processed meats increases the probability of us developing cancer. In the same way as it says about tobacco, smoking a cigarette does not kill immediately but if you smoke constantly it increases the probability of developing a cancer of the tongue, the throat, or the lungs, so it is with meat. It is not very ethical of the government to support these industries because, if it is supporting industries that have implications such as the depletion of ecosystems and that are very harmful to human health, how are we going to create a health plan for combating cancer? I am talking about cancer because the WHO links this disease with the consumption of dairy products, meat and processed meats.

And local agriculture?

At the moment, farmers wanting to implement a project and request a certain amount of support will face many difficulties if they have less than four hectares. One way of avoiding depopulation of the countryside is to give provide a couple or people who want to be on their land and want to devote themselves to agriculture with proper conditions. Some time ago, we presented this proposal on the question of local production and local consumption. We have absolutely fantastic conditions in terms of our climate and our land to produce food and to be, not totally, but largely independent in terms of food, and we are wholly dependent. We are living in a crazy situation, on average foodstuffs in the world travel 5,000 kilometres from their place of production to their place of consumption, and today we might be eating a cabbage from Italy, potatoes from New Zealand, broccoli from Guatemala and strawberries from Spain, it’s insane.

Is it a local problem on a global scale?

It is the paradigm of the world’s geopolitical orientation. We are importing foods that travel thousands and thousands of kilometres with this type of globalised policy and contributing to increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Apart from this, as we no longer have the capacity in Europe to produce all our food, the big European and North American companies are starting to occupy large parts of South America and Africa. The result is the enslavement of huge numbers of people and indigenous cultures, with the connivance of local governments. In South America, the native populations have less and less space and are being decimated, always for the same reason, for the production of something and it’s almost always something to eat.

Will the agreements made at COP 21 (United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Paris reduce the ecological footprint?

COP21 and governments are in denial. You cannot talk about the emission of greenhouse gases without talking about intensive livestock farming, which is the biggest global polluter at all levels. No one wants to talk about this. It’s like talking about lung cancer without mentioning cigarettes. It is obvious that we need to reduce the amount of transport, because it pollutes a lot, just like the energy sector and industry. But all types of transport taken together worldwide, boats, trucks, cars and planes, represent 13% of greenhouse gas emissions… intensive livestock farming is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions, it is responsible for the erosion and desertification of the soil, for water consumption, for the degradation of water resources and for deforestation. For example, 90% of the deforestation in the Amazon rain forest is due to the creation of pasture for cattle which then goes for human consumption. The data I am talking about come from the UN and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). The WHO has also talked about these issues but they haven’t been taken into account.


What is your opinion about prospecting for oil and gas on Portuguese territory?

At COP21 the Prime Minister said, and he defends it as part of his government’s programme, that we must restrict as much as possible our dependence on fossil fuels, but at the same time we are investing in prospecting and subsequent extraction of the very same fossil fuels, there is a lack of coherence here. What the major international accidents tell us is that, when they happen, and fortunately that is not often, they are catastrophic. We are watching a dangerous game and bad business. The financial rewards for the country are bad, in other countries the state receives 70% of the value of a barrel, and in this case we are talking about just 2, 3, 4 or 5%. Apart from which, a possible accident could compromise one of the country’s economic levers, the tourism sector, which represents 10% of Portuguese GDP, the Algarve alone represents 5% of national GDP (some seven billion euros). We also have the fisheries sector and the shellfish gatherers. We don’t need these hydrocarbon businesses in our country and PAN argues that these contracts should be renegotiated and done away with, especially because gas exploration also brings other problems with it linked to the possibility of triggering seismic activity.

Do you feel very alone as the sole PAN deputy in the Assembly of the Republic?

We are motivated, but somewhat limited as regards our possibilities because the PAN, with just one deputy, does not have the same dignity as the other parties. As they are parliamentary groups because they have two or more deputies, they have specific rights and possibilities in terms of the length of their speeches, because I cannot speak in most debates, or in the scheduling of legislative initiatives. But the measures and the values that PAN is introducing, apparently peripheral or secondary and sometimes even viewed as exotic, will be, in the short and medium term, because there is no long term, at the heart of political debate if only for financial reasons. Because dealing with environmental matters and mitigating climate change will cost the State Budget so much money that they will be on the agenda, at least for this reason. And what the main political parties will have to bear in mind is that we are a minority, it’s true, but more and more people are aware of the urgent need to take care of the planet, the ecosystem which is our common home.

According to calculations in certain studies, if the temperature increases by two more degrees, the tides will start to change and a number of serious problems facing ecosystems will worsen. Do you think the planet is at risk?

The planet as we know it is at risk. The planet will never be at risk given that, if we destroy all this and even if we ourselves disappear from the Earth’s surface, the planet will still be there. When we say we’re going to save the planet, it is good that we are starting to think that what we are going to save is us as a species because what we are doing at the moment is ruining, destroying and degrading our common home which is the planet. If we continue with this human-induced activity, as we are doing at present, in the end we are talking about our very survival and by continuing to act as we are doing, we are putting our most basic resources at risk, namely the land for growing food, the water we need for growing food and for drinking, and the air we breathe. When these finish we will disappear.

Thank you.

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