AS you read this, I will be making my way to Brazil and Paraguay in the company of Alyn Smith, the SNP Member of the European Parliament's Agricultural Committee.

We are going on a six-day study tour of abattoirs, marts and beef farms to see for ourselves the implications of the EU-South American free trade agreement negotiations.

By the European Commission's own economic impact assessment, opening the doors of the EU to unrestricted South American beef imports will mean a €7.75 billion hit for EU producers, leading to a dramatic shift in trade. The trip will generate credible evidence of the real world issues which need to be addressed in the talks in order to ensure fairness and maintain high standards.

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Mr Smith said: "Once we get Common Agricultural Policy reform past us, the biggest single issue is the Mercosur [South American trading bloc] trade deal, so this trip will be vital in seeing exactly what the reality is on the ground.

"I'm all for free trade, but not at any cost and it is vital we maintain our own indigenous food production infrastructure. Food security is a vital part of our national security and we cannot allow ourselves to become dependent upon foreign imports. Europe's farmers have, rightly, to meet high standards of animal welfare and our citizens demand that imports meet the same high standards.

"I go with an open mind. I will be keeping my eyes and ears open throughout the tour and I'll be documenting what I see and hear to present to the European Commission so that their talks with the Mercosur trade bloc are as informed as possible."

deer meeting date

A meeting has been organised by the South West Scotland Deer Management Group in association with the Lowland Deer Network Scotland (LDNS) to bring deer managers, farmers and anyone with deer on their ground up to speed with Government policy, the latest legislation and what is in the pipeline.

The event is at Kenbridge Hotel, New Galloway, Castle Douglas on Thursday, November 8, at 7pm. Keynote speaker is Richard Cooke, acting chairman of the LDNS, and chairman of the association of deer management groups.

Members of Scottish National Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and the SW Scotland Deer Management Group will be in attendance to answer questions.

Mr Cooke said: "Under new legislation, anyone who has deer on their ground has a duty to manage them responsibly. This means the onus of deer management has also been placed fairly and squarely on the shoulders of farmers, forestry companies, the local authority, developers and so on, as well as those traditionally undertaking deer management.

"Moreover, the focus does not just include hill deer, but also low-ground roe deer."