Organic Consumers Association

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Organic Crusader Wants Food Labels to Spell It Out

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

Consumers who want to know if their food contains genetically modified ingredients can thank Ronnie Cummins for his efforts to slap labels saying as much on everything from taco chips to coffee cake.

Food companies can blame him for playing to what many consider misguided fears, costing them money with new labels and scaring consumers; after all, GM ingredients are everywhere in the grocery store.

Cummins and his Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association have been instrumental in making GM labeling a prominent national food issue. Next month, voters in Washington will be the latest to consider whether GM-containing foods should be labeled as such in their state.

"This is the most important battle in 20 years in the battle against genetic engineering," Cummins said. "If they pass it, it will have national repercussions."

It's close, with pro-labelers in the lead, polls show. The vote follows a similar referendum in California last year that was narrowly defeated, and by pro-labeling initiatives passed by the Connecticut and Maine legislatures earlier this year, albeit with big caveats.

U.S. food safety agencies years ago approved the genetically engineered crops in use today, and they've gotten the imprimatur of many prominent science and medical groups. Still, calls for labeling - once thought to be a lost cause - by activists like the firebrand Cummins have grown as concerns over GM ingredients have lingered.

"A lot of people thought they had no chance, that it was really a fool's errand," said Ben Lilliston, a vice president at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "They achieved some things that a lot of people didn't think were possible." Lilliston wrote a book with Cummins called "Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers."

Based in the northeast Minnesota hamlet of Finland, the Organic Consumers Association is Cummins' baby, the apex of a lifelong career of liberal activism. The 67-year-old started by protesting the war in Vietnam and went on to battle everything from nuclear proliferation to the Flavr Savr tomato - the first GM food to be licensed for human consumption.

The Organic Consumers Association helped mobilize citizens in California last year to get a labeling referendum on the ballot. The group was one of the largest donors to California pro-labeling forces, ponying up about $1 million beyond initial mobilization efforts.  

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