We tend to think of cotton as pure and natural and images of pretty fluffy white seed heads come to mind. It is the most celebrated and popular fabric the world over and due to its enormous commercial value to so many countries is a significant part of foreign exchange earnings.
However there is another side to the coin which consumers may not be so familiar with. Cotton uses more pesticides per plant than almost any other crop in the world. Growing and harvesting 1lb of cotton fibre which is enough to make the average tee shirt exacts a deadly cost to the earths air, soil, water and ultimately animals that has an impact on global health. Furthermore policies and routines employed within the industry ranging from crop subsidies from the wealthy nations to sweatshops cause misery and poverty.
Organic cotton growing aims to work with nature and use biologically based and not chemically based growing systems to raise crops. Farmers focus on managing rather than eradicating pests and weeds and help maintain an ecological balance. They have options to control weeds which include hoes, crop rotation, intercropping, mulches etc. For example by planting sunflowers beneficial ants are encouraged which feed on the cotton bollworm. Because the pesticides used in conventional cotton growing not only kill cotton pests but also eliminate helpful insects the balance of nature is overturned and there is an increased need for toxic chemicals. This has become known as the “pesticide treadmill”.
In California five of the top nine pesticides are carcinogenic (dicofol, naled, cyanazine, propargite and trifluralin).
The World Health Organisation estimates that at least three million people are poisoned by pesticides every year and 20-40,000 more are killed.
Apart from problems associated with growing conventional cotton and processes involved in creating the fabric the dyes are further concerns. Toxins in the dyes affect skin and other organs. People with skin conditions such as eczema may be even more affected by chemicals and dyes. It has been suggested that babies have an increased likelihood of being affected because their skin is thinner and their bodies are still growing.
Basically the choice of whether or not to buy organic cotton is a personal one but I believe that there is a strong case to do so.