Ronnie Cummins, Scourge of Genetically Modified Meals, Dies at 76


Ronnie Cummins, a ponytailed activist who turned one of many nation’s main advocates for natural meals and a number one critic of genetically modified meals, died on April 26 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the place he lived and labored part-time. He was 76.

Rose Welch, his spouse and associate in beginning the Natural Shoppers Affiliation, an advocacy and informational group, mentioned his dying, which was not extensively reported on the time, was brought on by bone and lymph most cancers.

Mr. Cummins was a lifelong activist and protester, starting together with his opposing the Vietnam Battle and nuclear energy. He settled on natural meals activism within the Nineteen Nineties after he was employed as a director of the Pure Meals Marketing campaign, a lobbying group that sought to broaden consciousness of the risks of genetically engineered meals whereas pushing for accountable labeling and authorities testing.

Mr. Cummins labored within the area for the marketing campaign, elevating alarm at rallies and supermarkets in regards to the perils of meals utilizing genetically modified elements. He handed out leaflets, wrote opinion articles and answered shoppers’ questions as a marketing campaign spokesman.

He additionally labored for the Past Beef marketing campaign, geared toward lowering beef consumption and selling safer strategies of cattle manufacturing. Each campaigns had been based by the environmental activist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin.

Mr. Cummins “was a tricky man who may very well be an activist and in addition step again and do the mental homework behind what we had been doing,” Mr. Rifkin mentioned in a telephone interview.

“Too usually activists burn out after beginning out with excessive expectations,” he added. “However Ronnie may write, analysis, mirror and be open to all factors of view.”

Certainly one of Mr. Cummins’s frequent targets was recombinant bovine somatotropin, or bovine development hormone, a genetically engineered hormone, produced by Monsanto, that stimulates milk manufacturing in cows.

On the primary day that farmers had been allowed to promote milk from cows injected with the hormone, in 1994, Mr. Cummins instructed The Related Press that “if we don’t decelerate the expertise of change with genetically engineered components, we will likely be making a really main mistake by way of human well being, animal well being and the survival of household farms.”

He continued to rail about milk produced by hormone-treated cows after he and Ms. Welch began the Natural Shoppers Affiliation, primarily based in Finland, Minn., in 1998.

“Recombinant bovine development hormone is unhealthy for dairy cows, actually burning them out in three or 4 years, inflicting horrible bodily stress and an extended checklist of medical issues together with reproductive issues,” Mr. Cummins wrote in The Fresno Bee in 2008.

He relished battling with main manufacturers. In 2001, he raised doubt about Starbucks’s promise to not use milk merchandise with the hormone by asking to see its promise in writing. (The corporate finally complied in 2007.) He warned a few “sneak assault engineered by the likes of Kraft, Dean Meals and Smucker’s.” To strain firms utilizing modified beet sugar, he threatened a protest towards Hershey.

Although there are unresolved questions in regards to the impact of genetically modified organisms on biodiversity, there’s a near-universal consensus amongst scientists that genetically modified meals are fit for human consumption.

Most shoppers don’t share that view, nevertheless, a skepticism due largely to the efforts of activists like Mr. Cummins.

The security of genetically modified meals “is like world local weather change, the place 99 % of scientists imagine in it,” Pamela Ronald, a plant pathology professor on the College of California, Davis, instructed The Roanoke Occasions in 2013.

She added, “You might have scientists around the globe who say genetically engineered crops are fit for human consumption — after which you could have Ronnie Cummins.”

Mr. Cummins was born Adrian Alton Abel on Oct. 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, within the coronary heart of the state’s oil business. His mom, Elise (Stout) Abel, was a homemaker who died by suicide in 1951.

In his 20s, Adrian modified his identify to Ronnie Cummins, the identify of a boy who was additionally born in 1946 and who died in 1954. Ms. Welch mentioned he modified his identify as a result of he feared reprisals from the Ku Klux Klan for his antiwar actions at Rice College in Houston, the place he had majored in English and philosophy and graduated with a bachelor’s diploma in 1969.

Ms. Welch mentioned she didn’t know why her husband took the Cummins boy’s identify particularly. She mentioned he instructed her that he didn’t have a legal document that he was in search of to cover with a brand new id. His brother, Jack Abel Jr., mentioned by telephone that the story behind the identify change “is so private I can’t share it.”

Along with his spouse and brother, Mr. Cummins is survived by his son, Adrian Cummins Welch; and his sisters, Molly Travis and Bonnie Abel.

Adrian grew up amongst refineries and later recalled catching fish polluted by oil. However he additionally spent idyllic summers on his maternal grandparents’ farm, the place he took care of animals and gathered eggs.

“My life expertise has taught me that cash guidelines and energy corrupts, and that placing income earlier than individuals and environmental well being will not be solely improper however lethal,” he wrote in his guide “Grassroots Rising: A Name to Motion on Local weather, Farming, Meals and Inexperienced New Deal” (2020). “Organized grass-roots energy could make a giant distinction,” he added, “whether or not we’re speaking about public consciousness, market strain or politics and public coverage.”

As a profession, activism didn’t pay the payments, so he earned a residing through the years as a newsstand proprietor on the College of Minnesota, the director of a meals co-op in Burnsville, Minn., outdoors Minneapolis, and a home painter. Ms. Welch waited tables.

“He was just about a hippie,” she mentioned in a telephone interview.

Each went to work for Mr. Rifkin within the Nineteen Nineties, Mr. Cummins as a director, Ms. Welch as a marketing campaign supervisor. They left to start out the Natural Shoppers Affiliation, which helps enforcement of the U.S. Division of Agriculture’s natural meals requirements, produces instructional materials for natural shoppers and companies, and encourages public strain campaigns on natural meals points.

The “hippie” was lastly incomes an actual wage — $112,900 in 2021.

The O.C.A. has spun off two organizations: the Mexico-based Through Orgánica, an agroecology farm college and analysis heart, in 2009, and, in 2014, Regeneration Worldwide, which advances methods to develop farming practices that rebuild degraded soil.

Within the view of André Leu, the worldwide director of Regeneration Worldwide, Mr. Cummins had stood as much as “the highly effective elite who had been monopolizing energy and wealth” and had been “undermining democracy, honest wages, wholesome meals, peace, the local weather, and the setting.”

A longtime aim of Mr. Cummins’s was for the federal government to require labeling on genetically modified meals. He fought for poll initiatives in a number of states and gained his first main victory in Vermont, in 2014, when it turned the primary state to cross a labeling legislation.

Confronted with the prospect of a patchwork of state legal guidelines, Congress handed a sweeping federal labeling legislation in 2016.

However Mr. Cummins didn’t take into account it a victory.

The legislation, which outdated the harder Vermont laws, gave firms the choice of utilizing an icon or a scannable QR code that will direct shoppers to an internet site, as a substitute of getting to spell out the knowledge on the package deal. And a few meals, like extremely refined sugars and oils, had been exempt from the labeling requirement.

Mr. Cummins, in an article on his web site, referred to as manufacturers like Natural Valley and Stonyfield Farms “natural traitors” and accused the Grocery Producers Affiliation, the Complete Meals grocery store chain “and a cabal of sellout, nonprofit organizations” of surrendering “to Monsanto and a company agribusiness” by backing the laws.

“In different phrases enterprise as traditional,” he added, then used a buzzword for genetically modified merchandise — “Shut up and eat your Frankenfoods.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed analysis.

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