Ah Cotton…the beautiful, soft substance that we use in our everyday lives. From our sheets, to our towels, to the clothes we wear day in and day out, its something we just cannot live without. As attractive as it is, what lurks behind in the shadows of cotton production is a not so beautiful picture.
Cotton is highly attractive to insects (eg cutworm, army worm, loopers, aphids, whitefly, spider mite and more). Because this effects crops, cotton has become heavily reliant on pesticides…so heavily reliant that it uses 1/4 of the worlds pesticides and are the most pesticide dependent crops in the world. These chemicals get into the soil and water and in turn destroy the environment and also effect the wildlife that come into contact with it. In addition, farmers health are at risk of pesticide poisoning and serious other health issues.
Here are some facts displayed on the effect of pesticides on human health from the site organicconsumers:
- In California, five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton are cancer-causing chemicals (cyanazine, dicofol, naled, propargite and trifluralin).
- In Egypt, more than 50% of cotton workers in the 1990s suffered symptoms of chronic pesticide poisoning, including neurological and vision disorders.
- In India, 91% of male cotton workers exposed to pesticides eight hours or more per day experienced some type of health disorder, including chromosomal aberrations, cell death and cell cycle delay.
- In the US, a 1987 National Cancer Institute Study found a nearly seven-fold higher risk of leukemia for children whose parents used pesticides in their homes or gardens. The World Health Organization estimates that at least three million people are poisoned by pesticides every year and 20-40,000 more are killed.
- Over 1 million Americans will learn they have some form of cancer and 10,400 people in the U.S. die each year from cancer related to pesticides.
So as you can see conventional cotton has a number of unsustainable factors that need to be addressed.
In the U.S., one-third of a pound of chemicals is needed just to grow enough conventional cotton for a regular T-shirt. “Organic cotton is a solution to the problem of chemical use in conventional cotton,” says Lynda Grose of the Sustainable Cotton Project. Grose adds, “The ecological goal is to convert fields from chemical controls to biological controls.”
There is a lot of skepticism around organic cotton because textiles don’t have to be certified in order to be called organic. However there are a few certifications to look out for when purchasing organic cotton to ensure its organic from field to finished product such as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), Soil Association, and Organic Exchange. Check out the website cottonedon for more detailed information on these certfications.
And we all know about the sweatshops and unfair working conditions of the labourers. These organic certifications have social responsibility and living wages built into their core philosophy and monitoring so it’s not just about the cotton but the people behind the farming and the manufacturing. At least now we have information available to us to make our own informed decisions.
Granted organic cotton is more expensive but we have been brainwashed into thinking that fast and cheap fashion is normal and $5 -$10 for a cotton t-shirt is the going rate, but someone or something else is always paying the price. Organic cotton is about respect for people and planet and is more expensive to produce as it’s much more labour intensive. Cottonedon says “The price of organic includes investments made by farmers who are protecting the environment, maintaining soil fertility, preserving biodiversity and conserving water.”
Below is a chart that lists the major differences between organic cotton and conventional cotton from seed throughout the whole process.
http://www.greencotton.wordpress.com – Sources used for this table include: National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Organic Exchange, Organic Trade Association (OTA), and Harmony Art Organic Designs.