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Ottawa. Thursday, December 2, 2010 – In a surprise move yesterday evening in the House of Commons, the New Democratic Party secured an extended debate, of up to 5 hours, on the highly controversial Bill C-474 on genetically engineered (GE) crops, currently in third reading.

“We are very excited that, for the first time, all Members of Parliament will have the chance to participate in a substantive debate on genetic engineering,” said Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. “In our 15 year history with this technology, a 5 hour debate in the House of Commons on genetic engineering is unprecedented.”

Bill C-474 is a one-line Private Members Bill that would require that “an analysis of potential harm to export markets be conducted before the sale of any new genetically engineered seed is permitted.” The Bill is supported by representatives of alfalfa growers and organic farmers, and opposed by the biotechnology industry.

The extension to the final debate comes after Conservatives and Liberals defeated a procedural motion on October 27 to extend Agriculture Committee hearings on Bill C-474 by 30 days. This decision to abruptly end the hearings resulted in scheduled Committee witnesses, including National Farmers Union President, Terry Boehm, being turned away from Parliament Hill on October 28. Now, the final hour of debate ahead of the final vote will be 5 hours instead of just 1 hour. This final 5 hours of debate and the final vote will occur in early 2011.

“This is a great chance for farmers to be heard. Organic, non-GE, and conventional farmers will all now have a fair opportunity to voice their urgent concerns,” said Saskatchewan organic grain farmer Arnold Taylor. Taylor, who was scheduled to appear at hearings on Bill C-474 on behalf of the Canadian Organic Growers before the hearings were cancelled, submitted his written testimony to the Agriculture Committee, part of which was read last night by Bill sponsor and NDP Agriculture Critic, Alex Atamanenko.

“The debate over genetic engineering is now finally on the floor of the House of Commons despite all the efforts of biotech industry lobbyists to shut it down,” said Sharratt, “With genetically engineered apples, salmon, pigs, alfalfa and wheat on the industry agenda, MPs should prepare themselves to listen to their constituents in 2011.”

For more information: Lucy Sharrratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 241 2267 ext 6; Arnold Taylor, Canadian Organic Growers, 306 252 2783

For more information on Bill C-474 click here.