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


Ronnie Cummins, a ponytailed activist who grew to become 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 accomplice in beginning the Natural Customers Affiliation, an advocacy and informational group, mentioned his demise, 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 along with his opposing the Vietnam Warfare and nuclear energy. He settled on natural meals activism within the Nineties after he was employed as a director of the Pure Meals Marketing campaign, a lobbying group that sought to broaden consciousness of the hazards 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 concerning the perils of meals utilizing genetically modified elements. He handed out leaflets, wrote opinion articles and answered customers’ questions as a marketing campaign spokesman.

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

Mr. Cummins “was a troublesome man who could possibly be an activist and in addition step again and do the mental homework behind what we have 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.”

One in all 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 have been allowed to promote milk from cows injected with the hormone, in 1994, Mr. Cummins informed The Related Press that “if we don’t decelerate the know-how of change with genetically engineered components, we can be making a really main mistake when it comes to 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 Customers Affiliation, based mostly in Finland, Minn., in 1998.

“Recombinant bovine development hormone is dangerous for dairy cows, actually burning them out in three or 4 years, inflicting horrible bodily stress and a protracted listing of medical issues together with reproductive problems,” 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 ultimately complied in 2007.) He warned a couple of “sneak assault engineered by the likes of Kraft, Dean Meals and Smucker’s.” To strain corporations utilizing modified beet sugar, he threatened a protest in opposition to Hershey.

Although there are unresolved questions concerning 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 customers don’t share that view, nonetheless, a skepticism due largely to the efforts of activists like Mr. Cummins.

The protection of genetically modified meals “is like world local weather change, the place 99 p.c of scientists imagine in it,” Pamela Ronald, a plant pathology professor on the College of California, Davis, informed The Roanoke Instances in 2013.

She added, “You have got scientists around the globe who say genetically engineered crops are fit for human consumption — after which you will 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 title to Ronnie Cummins, the title of a boy who was additionally born in 1946 and who died in 1954. Ms. Welch mentioned he modified his title 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 title particularly. She mentioned he informed her that he didn’t have a felony document that he was searching for to cover with a brand new id. His brother, Jack Abel Jr., mentioned by telephone that the story behind the title 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 earnings earlier than individuals and environmental well being shouldn’t be solely mistaken 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 dwelling over time as a newsstand proprietor on the College of Minnesota, the director of a meals co-op in Burnsdale, Minn., exterior 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 Nineties, Mr. Cummins as a director, Ms. Welch as a marketing campaign supervisor. They left to begin the Natural Customers Affiliation, which helps enforcement of the U.S. Division of Agriculture’s natural meals requirements, produces academic materials for natural customers 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 have been monopolizing energy and wealth” and have been “undermining democracy, truthful wages, wholesome meals, peace, the local weather, and the atmosphere.”

A longtime objective 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 grew to become the primary state to move 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 outmoded the harder Vermont laws, gave corporations the choice of utilizing an icon or a scannable QR code that will direct customers to an internet site, as an alternative of getting to spell out the data on the package deal. And a few meals, like extremely refined sugars and oils, have 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 regular,” he added, then used a buzzword for genetically modified merchandise — “Shut up and eat your Frankenfoods.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed analysis.