Executive director, Organic Consumers Association; former director, Jeremy Rifkin’s Beyond Beef Campaign & Pure Food Campaign; author of books on Central American culture; co-author, Genetically-Engineered Foods: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers.
Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has spent a lifetime as a professional activist. Since getting his start in anti-war activism in 1967, he has dabbled in the “human rights, anti-nuclear, labor, consumer, and sustainable agriculture” movements. From 1992 to 1998 he served as a campaign consultant and director for anti-technology zealot Jeremy Rifkin’s Foundation on Economic Trends.
Cummins spent the 1990s leading food-scare efforts of national and international scope, including Rifkin’s “Beyond Beef” campaign, the “Pure Food” campaign (which later became the OCA), and the “Global Days of Action Against Genetic Engineering.” At the height of the American mad-cow food scare, Cummins insisted (with no evidence to support his warning) that “we may already have an epidemic in the United States.”
In 1998 Cummins told the Minneapolis City Pages that “Consumers and farmers would both be better off if people paid twice as much for their meat and ate half as much.” And despite the promise of important biotech advances to the world’s food supply, Cummins promised a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter that “it’s not going to be that long before we’ll have the same movement around industrial agriculture and genetic engineering that we had around nuclear power.”
In July 2000, Cummins poured his fear-of-food charisma into an apocalyptic book called Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers. Despite his commitment to “educating” consumers through his writing and organized protests, Cummins doesn’t seem to have much respect for them. At a June 2001 protest outside a Washington, D.C. Starbucks coffeehouse, he conceded that his strategy depends on “the fact that most consumers aren’t smart enough to know what they want.”
Cummins recently has sung a different tune in his support for mandatory labels on foods with genetically modified (GM) ingredients, classifying it as a consumer “right to know” matter. But the “right to know” is just a ruse. It’s really about Cummins’ crusade to eradicate modern crop technology.
In an open letter, he wrote that a California ballot measure mandating labels on foods with GM ingredients was part of a plan to “move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming” and “drive genetically engineered foods off supermarket shelves.” Cummins predicted that if the initiative passed, “we will be on our way to getting GE-tainted foods out of our nation’s food supply for good.” (The initiative failed.)
It’s not about consumer choice—it’s about taking choices away from consumers (and farmers) and pursuing a radically purist organic ideology.
Cummins is quick to denounce corporations and accuse opponents of being industry shills, yet Cummins’ own work will—ironically and to his chagrin—benefit large companies that make up Big Organic. The organic giant Stonyfield Farm, for example, has revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars and is owned by the French multinational company Groupe Danone, which itself had revenue of $26 billion in 2011 (the company is not totally organic). Organic Valley reported revenue of $860 million 2012. Horizon, an organic milk producer, has sales exceeding $200 million.