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Nowadays, the Organic Consumers Association runs a well-trafficked Web page with consumer guides and news about organic and food policy issues. The association has a notably active Facebook page. And it has an affiliate group promoting organics in Mexico, where Cummins has a residence.
A simple philosophy
Cummins, who’s making $96,000 this year, also has a cabin near the group’s Finland headquarters and a small apartment in south Minneapolis.
The Organic Consumers Association’s website says it has more than 800,000 members. The group’s philosophy is simple and uncompromising.
“What we are trying to do is strengthen the organic movement and educate the public about the hazards of industrial farming,” Cummins said. “GMOs are the cornerstone of industrial farming. … This technology is inherently unpredictable and inherently hazardous.”
The majority of scientists would disagree, said Pamela Ronald, a plant pathology professor at University of California, Davis, and co-author with her organic farmer husband of “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food.”
GM safety “is like global climate change, where 99 percent of scientists believe it,” Ronald said. “You have scientists around the world who say genetically engineered crops are safe to eat — and then you have Ronnie Cummins.”
Given scientific consensus, “why would you have a label on something that is perfectly safe?” Ronald said.
Mark Kastel, co-director of the anti-GM Cornucopia Institute, said the science is not a done deal, and a lot of consumers have concerns over GM ingredients — therefore labeling is merited. “Now, the only way you know if you are not buying GMO is to buy organic.”
Kastel’s Wisconsin-based research group does studies on organics, and he has known Cummins — whom he considers an ally — for 20 years. Cummins’ aggressive style has helped the cause, Kastel said.
In an interview, Cummins, dressed in a blue-checked shirt and bluejeans, plays out his thoughts like a teacher, a South Texas lilt still in his voice. But in missives on his website, he can be a bomb-thrower with headlines like “Co-existence with Monsanto: Hell No!”
He uses the word “cabal” quite a bit in his writings, applying it with equal opportunity to the chemical industry and large organic food companies, the latter for timidity on issues like GM crops. In turn, Cummins and his group have “gotten a lot of flak” from the organic industry, Kastel said.
“Ronnie is pretty flamboyant but the fact is he gets results,” Kastel said. “You need to be pretty out there for people to pay attention to what you are doing. Mild-mannered doesn’t always work.”
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003