* Provision would muzzle judges, says biotech critic
* Court cases on GMO crops can run for years
* USDA proposes deregulation of GMO sugar beets
WASHINGTON, June 5 (Reuters) - A provision in a U.S. House bill would allow farmers to grow genetically modified crops while court battles are under way to decide if the plants are safe, said a biotech skeptic on Tuesday, calling the idea an unprecedented muzzle on federal judges.
The one-paragraph provision, buried in a funding bill for the Agriculture Department, obliges USDA to approve cultivation of a biotech crop while USDA completes “any required analyses or consultations” to decide if the crop is safe to plant.
“We can’t find a single legislative precedent to this,” said Andrew Kimbrell, of the Center for Food Safety, which frequently sues the government over its approval of biotech crops.
Kimbrell said the provision would prevent judges from issuing injunctions against cultivation while courts decide if a crop poses a risk.
A House Appropriations Committee spokeswoman said the panel does not identify sponsors of legislative riders at this stage of consideration. A subcommittee vote on the bill was expected on Wednesday. The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group, said it did not seek the language.
USDA approval of biotech crops has faced legal challenges in a handful of high-profile cases, some involving crops developed by Monsanto Co. A biotech alfalfa variety from Monsanto went through five years of regulatory and legal contests, including a Supreme Court decision.
In 2009, a federal judge revoked USDA’s 2005 approval of genetically modified sugar beets by Monsanto but USDA allowed planting of the crop in 2011 under restrictions.
On June 1, USDA proposed deregulation of the Monsanto Roundup Ready sugar beets. Deregulation would approve the beets for planting. The proposal was part of two assessments required by a federal court on whether the beets pose a risk to the environment. USDA said it will accept comments on the assessments for at least 30 days before making a final decision. (Reporting By Charles Abbott; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)