Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Why Organic Cotton?

There is much information to be found on the benefits of organically-grown cotton. I used to think of cotton as a good, natural alternative to synthetic fabrics like polyester--but I knew very little about the processes undergone by "conventionally-grown" cotton.

Did you know that 70% of the cotton grown in the US is genetically-modified (GMO)? And in 2007, 43% of the world's cotton crop was GM. Not exactly natural in my opinion. "Bt Cotton" is Monsanto's bio-engineered cotton and is developed by inserting a gene from soil bacteria to produce a toxin that kills certain types of pests. They call it "Bt toxin" and their GM cotton produces this "Bt toxin" as it grows. Bt toxin destroys the guts of insects that ingest it, though Monsanto claims it is harmless to humans.
Another selling point for Monsanto is that Bt is resistant to herbicides. Meaning, farmers can spray herbicides directly on the cotton plants in an effort to kill weeds.
There is of course a wide range of issues associated with all of this. There is the possibility of adversely affecting "non-targeted" insects and other animals; and experience has shown that yields are not higher, most noteably in India, where there has been a plague of farmer suicides due to GM crop failures. And what about potential contamination of soil, water, air, and food supply? And what about the textiles made from these plants being in direct contact with our skin? and our babies' skin?
Of course some of the answers to these questions are yet unknown...but I can't help but think of Mary Shelley's story of a man who got too carried away with his own power. Perhaps we should practice a bit more restraint. Just because we can does not necessarily mean we should.

Organic Cotton is never grown from GMO seeds.

But that's not the only reason to choose organic cotton!
Here are a few more:
  • Organic seeds are not treated with fungicides or insecticides commonly used to treat non-organic cotton seeds
  • Organic cotton builds strong soil through crop rotation rather than using synthetic fertilizers and requires less irrigation because the increased organic matter in the soil retains water better
  • Weeds are physically removed from organic cotton crop sites rather than being killed with herbicides
  • Organic cotton farmers may use beneficial insects or trap crops to maintain healthy soil and a balance between pests and their natural predators--all in place of chemical insecticides
  • Organic standards continue, beyond cultivation and harvest, into the milling of the raw cotton to textile, insuring a less-toxic process than that of non-organic cotton milling.
And here are a few quick facts you may have heard before:
  1. About 1/3 pound of chemicals is used just to grow enough cotton to make one non-organic cotton t-shirt.
  2. Cotton crops occupy about 3% of the world's cultivated land, yet they account for 25% of annual pesticide production and 10% of herbicide production (note to self: all that GM insecticidal cotton must not be working!)
  3. All of the nine most common cotton pesticides carry the EPAs two most dangerous ratings for chemicals, and five of them are known to cause cancer.
Want to know more?
Google your questions!
And here are some sites I've found helpful:
Organic Consumers Association
Sustainable Cotton Project
Harmony Art Design

Don't know much about Monsanto? (The makers of Agent Orange)
Millions Against Monsanto Campaign


Fred said...

As a vegetarian, I am rather against GMO. However I find GMO cotton not as scary as GMO sugar.
Did you know that 100% of sugar beets (55% of total sugar source) produced in North America are GMO? This is scary because it leaves no choice to consumers anymore between engineered food and GMO-free food.
As to my clothes, I make sure not to buy anything made in China to protect European and American jobs.

KayaNow said...

Yes, the lack of labeling is a serious problem here. I didn't know that about sugar, but I understand that the situation is similar with corn, soy, canola, and wheat. Unless you buy organic, there's a very high likelihood it's GMO and there is no label to tell consumers! I used to live in France where these things must be labeled and they are not very popular!
I too am very careful about buying things from China for so many reasons.

Christine Eubanks said...

"As a vegetarian, I am rather against GMO. However I find GMO cotton not as scary as GMO sugar.
Did you know that 100% of sugar beets (55% of total sugar source) produced in North America are GMO?"

I'm just wondering Fred, you said that you are in favor of GMO cotton, are you not afraid of its health risk? Because we all know all the negative effects of GMO.

Fred said...

@Christine considering GMO cotton not as scary as GMO food does not mean I encourage GMO cotton. I'm just not as worried because it's not a food I ingest. But I still remain skeptical of anything GMO, don't take me wrong. Altering nature's DNA will be our demise.