Ronnie Cummins, the ponytailed activist who became one of the nation’s leading advocates for organic food and a prominent critic of genetically modified food, died on April 26 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he lived Lived and worked part-time. He was 76 years old.
Rose Welch, his wife and partner in starting the Organic Consumers Association, an advocacy and informational organization, said that his death, which was not widely reported at the time, was due to bone and lymph cancer.
Mr. Cummins was a lifelong activist and defender, beginning with his opposition to the Vietnam War and nuclear power. He embarked on organic food activism in the 1990s after being hired as director of pure food campaignA lobbying group that sought to raise awareness of the dangers of genetically engineered food while emphasizing responsible labeling and government testing.
Mr Cummins did field work for the campaign, at rallies and in supermarkets warning about the dangers of foods using genetically modified ingredients. He served as a spokesperson for the campaign, distributing pamphlets, writing opinion articles, and answering consumer questions.
He also worked for the Beyond Beef campaign, which aims to reduce beef consumption and promote safer methods of cattle production. Both campaigns were founded by environmental activist and social theorist jeremy rifkin,
Mr. Cummins was “a tough guy who could be an activist and step back and do the intellectual homework behind what we were doing,” Mr. Rifkin said in a phone interview.
“Often workers burn out after starting with high expectations,” he said. “But Ronnie could write, research, reflect and be open to all points of view.”
One of Mr. Cummins’ frequent targets is recombinant bovine somatotropin, or bovine growth hormone, a genetically engineered hormone, manufactured by Monsanto, that stimulates milk production in cows.
On the first day in 1994 that farmers were allowed to sell milk from hormone-injected cows, Mr. Cummins told The Associated Press that “if we don’t slow the transformation technology with genetically engineered additives, So we would be making a huge mistake in terms of human health, animal health and the survival of family farms.
He and Ms. Welch continue to tout the milk produced by hormone-treated cows Organic Consumers Association, Based in 1998 in Finland, Minn.
Mr. Cummins wrote in The Fresno Bee in 2008, “Recombinant bovine growth hormone is bad for dairy cows, literally burning them off in three or four years, causing terrible physical stress and a host of medical problems including reproductive complications.” becomes a long list.”
He enjoyed feuding with the major brands. In 2001, he asked to see Starbucks’ promise in writing not to use hormone-laced dairy products. ,The company finally complied in 2007.) He warned about a “sneak attack being prepared by the likes of Kraft, Dean Foods and Smuckers”. To pressure companies that used modified beet sugar, he threatened a protest against Hershey.
Although there are unresolved questions about the effect of genetically modified organisms on biodiversity, there is a near-universal agreement among scientists that genetically modified foods are safe to eat.
Most consumers do not share that view, however, a skepticism due in large part to the efforts of activists such as Mr. Cummins.
The safety of genetically modified food is “like global climate change, where 99 percent of scientists believe in it,” Pamela Ronald, a plant pathology professor at the University of California, Davis, told The Roanoke Times in 2013.
He added, “You have scientists around the world saying genetically engineered crops are safe to eat – and then you have Ronnie Cummins.”
Mr. Cummins was born Adrian Alton Abel on October 28, 1946, in Jefferson, Tex., about 20 miles from the Louisiana border. His father, Jack, was an accountant for Gulf Oil in Port Arthur, Texas, at the center of the state’s oil industry. His mother, Alice (Stout) Abel, was a homemaker who died by suicide in 1951.
In his 20s, Adrian changed his name to Ronnie Cummins, the name of a boy who was born in 1946 and died in 1954. Ms. Welch said she changed her name because she feared retaliation from the Ku Klux Klan for her antiwar activities. at Rice University in Houston, where he majored in English and philosophy and received his bachelor’s degree in 1969.
Ms Welch said she did not know why her husband specifically named the Cummins boy. She said he told her he had no criminal record which he wanted to hide with a new identity. His brother, Jack Abel Jr., said by phone that the story behind the name change was “so personal that I cannot share it.”
In addition to his wife and brother, Mr. Cummins is survived by his son, Adrian Cummins Welch; and his sisters, Molly Travis and Bonnie Abel.
Adrian grew up in the refineries and later remembers fishing polluted by oil. But he also spent idyllic summers on his maternal grandparents’ farm, where he cared for animals and collected eggs.
“My life experience has taught me that money rules and power corrupts, and that putting profit before people’s and environmental health is not only wrong but deadly,” he wrote in his book “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action”. On Climate, Farming, Food”. and the Green New Deal” (2020). “Organized grassroots power can make a big difference,” he said, “whether we’re talking about public consciousness, market pressure, or politics and public policy.”
As a career, activism didn’t pay the bills, so he earned a living for years as a newsstand owner at the University of Minnesota, director of a food cooperative outside Minneapolis in Burnsville, Minn., and a house painter. Ms. Welch waited tables.
“He was very much a hippie,” she said in a phone interview.
Both went on to work for Mr. Rifkin in the 1990s, Mr. Cummins as a director, Ms. Welch as a campaign manager. He left to start the Organic Consumers Association, which supports the enforcement of the US Department of Agriculture’s organic food standards, produces educational materials for organic consumers and businesses, and encourages public pressure campaigns on organic food issues. Is.
The “hippy” was finally earning a real salary – $112,900 in 2021.
The OCA has separated the two organizations :tThe Mexico-based Via OrganicaAn Agroecology Farm School and Research Center, in 2009, and, in 2014, Regeneration International, Which leads the way in developing agricultural practices that restore degraded soils.
In the view of Andre Leu, international director of Regeneration International, Mr. Cummins was standing against “powerful elites who were monopolizing power and wealth” and undermining “democracy, fair wages, healthy food, peace, climate, and Was doing. Environment.”
A long-standing goal of Mr Cummins was for the government to require labeling on genetically modified food. He fought for ballot initiatives in several states and scored his first major victory in Vermont in 2014, when it became the first state to pass a labeling law.
Faced with the prospect of a patchwork of state laws, Congress passed a comprehensive federal labeling law in 2016.
But Mr Cummins did not consider it a victory.
The law, which replaced a tougher Vermont law, gave companies the option of using an icon or scannable QR code that would direct consumers to a website instead of the information on the package. And some foods, such as highly refined sugars and oils, were exempt from the labeling requirement.
Mr Cummins, in an article on his websiteBrands such as Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farms have been called “organic traitors” and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Whole Foods supermarket chain” and selling, non-profit organizations for surrendering to “Monsanto and a corporate agribusiness” by supporting the law. a cabal of”.
“In other words business as usual,” he said, then used a buzzword for genetically modified products – “Shut up and eat your Frankenfoods.”
sheilagh mcneil Contributed to research.