Why organic cotton concerns everyone

Why organic cotton concerns everyone

When those of us here at iKotton tell people we are a social enterprise to promote organic cotton, the two common responses we hear are:

i) Cotton is a natural fabric and therefore will do no harm; and

ii) Okay, you're telling me that cotton farming uses a lot of pesticides, but so what? Cotton is something we wear and it's not a food. Even if there are pesticide residues on the cotton bolls, they will be gone after the fabric goes through a few washes. Why should we care if cotton is organically grown or not?

To clear up these common misconceptions, here are some facts about conventional cotton farming that explain why all of us should care about organic cotton:

1. Cotton is a fiber and it's also a food.

According to a 2014/15 report, worldwide annual production of cotton amounted to 26 million tons. For every kilogram of conventional cotton yarn produced, a greater quantity of cotton by-products, including cotton seed oil and cotton meal, are produced.

Cotton seed oil (often referred to as "vegetable oil" on product labels), is a common ingredient found in many commercially processed foods, skin care and pharmaceutical products. Cotton meal is fed to our livestock, so it's not surprising that fat soluble pesticides are found to accumulate in the fatty tissues of both livestock and humans.

2. Government approvals of pesticides and other forms of contamination are normally given based on clinical tests conducted on a single source, but the sad truth is that we are subjected to attacks from numerous sources, so we are exposed to a far greater load of harmful toxins than ever before.

For example, Endosulfan, a neurotoxin to both insects and mammals, was only recently banned in 2012, after the USDA originally approved it in the 1950s. The case for DDT was nearly the same. Often, when one pesticide is banned, the manufacturer will come up with an equally deadly substance to replace it, oor move production/sale to countries that still lack legislation to restrict their usage.

The impacts of these activities on our environment and our health are massive. To name a few:

1. Cotton is considered to be one of the world's "dirtiest" crops.

i) Cotton farming accounts for 16% of the world's total insecticide use. Genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds are pre-treated with insecticides before they reach the hands of the farmers and there is no clear evidence that they can reduce pesticide applications during the growing stage.

ii) Single-crop farming relying on chemical fertilizers leads to rapid depletion of soil and nutrients. Heavy irrigation leads to serious water shortage.

2. Pesticides contaminate our soil, water and air.

i) Pesticide residues are found in major waterways and as remote as our national parks.

3. The increase of Nitrous Oxide in the atmosphere accelerates global warming.

i) Heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizers increase the accumulation of a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide (N2O) in our atmosphere.

ii) Nitrous oxide has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) that is 310 times that of Carbon Dioxide, and a lifetime of 120 years in the atmosphere.

Organic cotton farming, through proper crop rotation, soil fertility and natural pest management, has been proven to:

i) Eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and GM seeds.

ii) Reduce Global Warming Potential (GWP) by over 40% compared to non-organic (i.e. conventional) cotton farming.

iii) Require less irrigation and save water, which has become a precious resource in many places.

iv) Provide competitive yields when compared to conventional cotton farming.

Knowledge gives us power, and sharing knowledge with others is the first step we can take to address what seems like a daunting task. Next time you make a purchase, let organic cotton be your choice. Generate demand, give assurance to our farmers that there is market support for organic cotton. As consumers, we have the power to redefine our entire supply chain. We just need to take that little step today...

The iKotton team

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