The Cotton Clothing Blues

by updated 2008/09/13

According to the OCA, only 2-1/2% of the world’s agricultural land is growing cotton. However, 24% of the world’s insecticide use and 11% of herbicide and fungicide use is in cotton fields. The insecticides, in particular, are generally applied with crop dusting airplanes, definitely not the most targeted approach to killing bad bugs. The pesticides kill everything, including the beneficial insects, and their use is heavy and constant throughout the cotton growing cycle. Because of problems like spray drift, contaminated runoff, and farm worker contact with the chemicals, the adverse consequences spread far beyond the cotton fields. The problems associated with the conventional methods of cotton farming are the same problems associated with chemical use in the growing of fruits and vegetables. As I wrote in The Dirty Dozen of Food, it is a very dangerous harvest indeed.

Cotton is also a crop that has been highly genetically modified. One source says that GMO cotton seeds are used for 70% of the cotton grown in the U.S. One genetically modified strain even produces its own insecticide. This may sound like it would reduce insecticide use, but because the insects seem to eventually develop a resistance to the modified cotton’s insecticide, future insect control may require more and more potent chemicals. Another couple of cotton varieties are tolerant of the herbicides farmers use in cotton fields. Since these cotton varieties are tolerant, heavy use of a chemical approach to weed control is the result.

One fact that surprised me is that cotton is also a food! In the harvesting process cotton seed is separated form the fiber. This cotton seed is used is everything from animal feeds to foods processed for human consumption. I have used cotton seed meal as an “organic” fertilizer in the past. Now I wonder if this fertilizer is made strictly from organic cotton seed, or if it is the byproduct of conventionally produced cotton?

I think the biggest roadblock to a wider acceptance of organic cotton is the extra cost. U.S. consumers, even environmentally conscious consumers, put aesthetics, quality and price at the top of the list when buying clothes. I have seen estimates that organic cotton clothes cost 20 to 50% more than conventional clothing. In this day of Wal-Mart, Ross, and other discounters, this additional cost is viewed as making organic clothes a hard sell.

Where does the extra cost of clothes made form organic cotton come from? Not necessarily from increased farming costs, except maybe the increased cost of paying farm workers a more sustainable wage. The OCA says that in Peru, cotton farmers have cut $100 per acre in pesticide and fertilizer costs by switching over to organic production. This is a very significant savings. I suspect that much of the increased costs are a result of organic, sustainable producers of organic cotton clothes not using sweatshop labor manufacturing. Educating consumers as to the reasons for the added cost may help, just like it does with organic food.

Unfortunately until consumers, and consequently retailers, start requesting more choice in organic clothing, the selection will remain limited. If there is an increased demand, the producers of organic cotton clothing may start to realize cost benefits associated with economies of scale. If the cost as compared to conventional clothing remains the same, it may just have to be accepted that only a certain percentage of the clothes buying public will ever be willing to pay the premium for organic clothing.

Will Sig
1 Cycle Clothing

I didnt know cotton was a food. It sounds a little unsafe that we use all those chemicals and the material is worn and apparently the seeds are eaten. But I guess there are alot more chemicals in other processed foods aswell.

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2 Anna

If I can, I buy for Matthew organic clothes or blankets. One of our Superstores carries some organic clothing for babies, and believe or not when on sale, I get them 50% off or more. But you are right the cost of organic clothing is quite high, but then if you look some of the brand name clothing the cost is same, so people can make choice, style or be green. As always good stuff Will. Anna :)

Annas last blog post..Moments of Happiness and Moments of Sadness

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3 Peaceful Disorder

At first my reason for searching out organic cotton was medical.

At only a few weeks old my son developed severe eczema and his pediatrician suggested organic cotton as an alternative to the harsh steroidal creams they wanted to put him on.

The search for organic clothing was not easy, and just plain expensive, but I knew his baby skin could not take the harsh chemicals used in regular textiles.

The more research I did, the more I knew our entire family needed to make a change, for us and the planet.

That was when I founded peacefuldisorder, and since it is a family adventure, the prices are very reasonable. ($12-$30)

You will probably see the same products in your local boutique for twice as much, I know I did. But best of all, after about 6 months of wearing organic, our baby has no sign of eczema.

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4 Oli

I had no idea that so much of the worlds pesticides were used on cottton growth, it would explain why a lot of small children develop allergies and react badly to some bedding for children though!

Maybe the government should put regualtions on organic cottom markings as they do on food?

Olis last blog post..Lula Belle’s Vegan Pancakes

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5 Organic Eating Daily

I always find it stunning that as consumers, we consistently underestimate our power in the marketplace — a power that can be harnessed to make meaningful change if we would just organize and demand it. Not sure if you’re interested, but I put together a posting on the various eco-oriented symbols, kind of a guide book, and organic cotton info is on there.

Check it here:

http://easywaystogogreen.com/green-guides/guide-to-green-symbols/

Thanks as always!

Organic Eating Dailys last blog post..Asparagus With Garlic and Lemon

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6 SheGoddess

I only recently found out the cotton contained the unsafe and toxic chemicals. It’s so upsetting that these companies don’t give a damn if people get sick with the pesticides they’re using.

I believe that the more we all band together, we’ll eventually have a cleaner planet and better health. Until then, we need to make our stand.

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7 nederlandse energie maatschapij

My favorite organic fabric is hemp. Unbelievable why it’s not so popular yet. Hopefully times will change.

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