Ronnie Cummins is the co-founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), the trade group representing the multi-billion dollar organics industry. Cummins has been active in the science denial movement for nearly 50 years and has led OCA’s efforts to spread misinformation about genetic engineering, factory farming, and vaccines since 1998.
Cummins’ History as a Radical Activist
Cummins’ biography on OCA’s website describes him as a “writer and activist … with extensive experience in public education…” but even a cursory look at his history reveals a political crusader with deep ties to the radical environmentalist movement and little interest in public education.
Beginning as an anti-war activist in the 1960s, Cummins quickly turned his focus to issues including “human rights, anti-nuclear, labor, consumer, and sustainable agriculture,” where it has remained ever since. In 1998, when OCA was officially founded, Cummins credited Greenpeace for stoking the public’s fear about crop biotechnology enough to turn it into a viable political issue, which Cummins had worked towards for 10 years.
Under the tutelage of a more senior anti-biotechnology activist named Jeremy Rifkin, Cummins took charge of a movement called “The Pure Food Campaign” in 1988, which recruited thousands of “leading chefs” to garner popular support for opposition to genetic modification. Over the course of the next decade, The Pure Food Campaign evolved into the corporate lobbying group now called the Organic Consumers Association.
In 2001 Cummins compared his anti-biotech campaign to Greenpeace’s fight against nuclear power two decades earlier. “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,” Cummins told the San Diego Tribune in 2001. This was an apt comparison, because science firmly supports the use of nuclear energy, according to NASA, and Greenpeace’s war on the technology was based on fear. The same is true of Cummins crusade against biotechnology, which is staunchly opposed by the scientific community.
Cummins: Consumers Aren’t Very Smart–Unless They Buy Organic
Cummins has consistently denied the benefits of biotechnology throughout his career and disparaged anyone who doesn’t share his views, telling supporters in 2000 that “most consumers aren’t smart enough to know what they want.” He added that his efforts to eventually ban the sale of transgenic food were based on this premise. However, OCA’s founder appeared to have a change of heart about consumers just a few years later.
As the debate around GMO labeling initiatives heated up in 2012, Cummins and the OCA led the fight for the organics industry, claiming that consumers have “a right to know” what’s in their food and proudly announcing that “Consumers are increasingly interested in ‘voting with their forks, and many want to support companies that share their values.” Likewise, when it was time to praise retailers that refused to carry transgenic products, OCA asked consumers to help them identify the grocery stores and co-ops that only sold organic products.
OCA’s Double Standards, Cummins’ “One Percenter” Salary
Like many anti-biotech activists, hypocritical conspiracy theories form the lynchpin of Cummins’ crusade against genetic engineering. Evil corporations, the argument goes, buy off scientists and hide the dangers of transgenic food so they can make money. Despite his rhetoric, though, Cummins earns an annual salary that puts him firmly in the “one percent” in most of the country, which is paid by OCA’s corporate donors.
OCA has also invested millions of dollars in various non-profit groups that push the organics industry’s political agenda. This includes lobbying against conventional agriculture subsidies while supporting government handouts to organic food producers.