Why organic cotton?

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Over the past few decades, people have grown more aware of their health, the environment and the connections between those two. What comes in contact with our bodies should be safe on every level and we know — not every product of a nice tangy orange color necessarily contains vitamin C — so we ask questions about ingredients and production processes.

Organic options are on-trend, and stores have caught on to this development, as the public is willing to spend good money on healthier products. In recent years, though, the term “organic” itself has been taking over new markets: It doesn’t only apply to the food industry any longer, but to anything that can be made from natural raw materials. One of the newer important organic products on the rise is cotton.

Of course, the immediate impact of cotton is not as obvious as that of a food you digest (we truly hope you don’t eat cotton!), so why exactly should organic cotton be something you may want to invest in?

 

Choose organic, and we all win.

Firstly, we have to bear in mind that cotton is a very versatile material— we use it to clean our faces, for our clothes, and also of course, for our sheets. (We explored the advantage of cotton over other bedding materials in earlier posts.) This means that there is a major demand for the growth of this incredible fiber.

Said high demand leads to a greatly increased rate of cultivation and is the reason why cotton production does have a big impact on the environment. It has been shown to use more chemicals than any other crop and accounts for a rough 15% of the pesticides used worldwide, even though it only covers 2.5% of the cultivated land.

Cotton farmers often heavily rely on chemicals in the form of pesticides and fertilizers in order to protect their crop against weeds and insects. In an attempt to reduce these often very harsh chemicals, a few years back genetically modified cotton was created to produce certain insect-killing toxins all by itself, sounds compelling, right? Cotton, that protects itself “naturally”. Just that those toxins don’t simply wash off that easily.

In addition, one of the GM cotton crops that was most widely sold was specifically engineered to resist the Monsanto weed killer Roundup. (Under normal circumstances Roundup would have also killed the cotton plant itself.) Monsanto then marketed their GM cotton as “roundup-ready”. This was very appealing to many farmers as it meant they could increase their harvest by simply growing a modified variety of the crop and then use a strong weed killer to protect it. But as we all know — nature adapts to survive in new circumstances, that’s what evolution is all about — so, it didn’t take long (actually it happened way more quickly than anticipated) until certain super-weeds evolved that were resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup and their appearance is rising steadily. In response to this development, Monsanto has suggested that farmers who grow GM cotton should now use several even stronger weed killers.

It isn’t hard to see how these weed killers may pose a threat to any person using that cotton. However, the pesticides are even more dangerous for the environment, polluting the air, the fields and finally contaminating our groundwater and wildlife.

Organic cotton farmer, however, use neither chemicals nor genetically modified plants and therefore the negative impact on the environment through farming is notably reduced.


Invest in your health

Organic cotton is also the healthier option for yourself. It has been proven that many chemicals used in the process of growing GM cotton crops (and non-organic cotton) can lead to serious health issues. Even though cotton doesn’t necessarily get absorbed into your body via your digestive system, it is still prominent in many products that come in immediate contact with your skin, such as clothing and sheets. The chemicals used in the production of conventional cotton can lead to skin reactions, allergies, asthma and even cancer. Given that we usually spend about a third of the day (kids even more than that) in between our sheets, often pulling them up to our faces, what’s in the sheets should be safe for you and your family to touch and inhale. So, it does make a lot of sense to forgo the regular cotton produced with GMO crops and chemicals.

 

Cheap and yet at a high expense

Obviously, cotton production that allows for pesticides and GMO is cheaper as it allows farmers to grow more cotton with less effort and on less land. It does come with a hefty price-tag nonetheless: Pesticides have already been found in wildlife and even in breast milk all over the world. This means we do consume those pesticides in some way after all. In low doses they may not be particularly harmful to the body of a grown-up, but many moms consciously choose breastfeeding as the healthy and natural way to feed their kids. So, clearly, the last thing you would expect to be administering to your babies are toxic chemicals that might harm them at this vulnerable stage of growth.

 

Help yourself AND others!

Getting in contact with pesticides definitely seems like a bad idea. And obviously, the more contact you get, the higher your risk of contamination. This means that the people who work the cotton, especially in countries with few to no regulations, risk their health and ultimately their lives by exposing themselves to the dangerous chemicals. But especially in rural areas of third world countries many families depend on cotton farming as their single source of income.

Organic cotton production gives them a way to work safely in this industry. Furthermore, fair trade and organic cotton go hand-in-hand, making sure the farmers can support their families and are not being taken advantage of.


Ethically made- or is it?

You will find plenty of products advertised as “100% pure cotton”, “natural cotton” or “ethically produced”. Companies try to lure the customer into buying their products, even though neither of these terms is equivalent with actual organic production. Obviously, the market has realized that people are willing to pay good money for quality fabrics because they are concerned about the long-term effects these can have on their health. Customers might just not be familiar with the industry’s terminology which, in cases, is very misleading and think they are actually paying a fair price for all the extra work that went into the final product, while still getting inferior quality. So, as customers, we need to be very cautious when choosing products if we wish them to stay in our homes and our lives for a long time.

Check for any mention of certifications- while "Oeko-tex" does mean there were no harmful chemicals used in the product, it does not mean it’s made of organic cotton. If you see the GOTS logo though, you can rest assured that it is both organic and ethically made. You can read more about it here.

Always bear in mind that by choosing organic cotton products you help the environment, your loved ones, and the people who produce the cotton!


And finally,

4 crucial benefits from organic cotton:

Less pollution - No chemical pesticides that get into the air, ground and water

Better health - You don’t risk exposing yourself or your little ones to pesticides.

The natural way- No meddling with mother nature and no use of GMO crops

Helping others live a decent life - Better conditions and fair wages for farmers and their families

 

Written by Wiebke Lotte Albers

 

Sources and further information:

http://www.weedscience.org/default.aspx

https://web.archive.org/web/20141120012942/http://www.ota.com/organic/mt/organic_cotton.html

http://www.panna.org/sites/default/files/ChlorpyrifosFactsheet2006.pdf

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/lactational-exposure-to-pesticides-a-review.php?aid=85482

https://www.organiccotton.org/oc/index.php

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