* Rider is contained in short-term spending bill
* Consumer groups decry "corporate earmark"
* Opponents ask Senate to strip out GM rider
WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved an extension of a law allowing farmers to keep growing a genetically modified crop while it is being challenged in court, a move critics said overrode actions to prevent contamination of non-GMO crops.
The extension, dubbed by critics the "Monsanto Protection Act" in reference to the agricultural biotechnology giant , would prolong the law scheduled to expire at the end of this month. The measure is contained in a 22-line rider to a stopgap bill to fund the government through Dec. 15.
Should the rider pass the Senate, it would keep the law alive for 11 weeks more. A coalition of small-farm, organic food, environmental and consumer groups asked the Senate to strip out the language from the bill.
The rider allows the cultivation and sale of a genetically modified (GM) plant variety to go ahead even if a federal judge overturns Agriculture Department approval of the variety and directs USDA to conduct more studies on whether the plant is safe to release.
Critics say the provision short-circuits court review of federal agencies. They cited the discovery early this year of unauthorized genetically modified wheat in Oregon showed the damage that could occur if there was a runaway GM crop.
Farm groups such as the American Soybean Association supported the provision, which appeared in March, as a way for farmers to have confidence that if they plant a crop, they will be able to sell it and not become collateral damage in lengthy legal wrangling.
The $7 billion U.S. wheat export market was roiled for weeks by the Oregon case, the origins of which have never been fully understood.
"The American people deserve better than dirty politics, yet the Republican leadership continues to side with the agrichemical companies that the rider seeks to protect," said Colin O'Neil, director of government affairs for Center for Food Safety, which opposes GM crops.
No lawmaker has claimed authorship of the rider, also known as Section 735, which appeared as part of a bill to fund many government departments through Sept. 30. A Senate staff worker said the provision was an unavoidable carry-over from House-Senate negotiations last fall.
Environmentalists often ask for a temporary injunction when they challenge U.S. approval of GM crops, so Section 735 would benefit other biotech seed companies such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical Co.