Although organic cotton has been cultivated for thousands of years it’s only in about the last decade that we have certified it organic. This is because of increasing concerns from environmentalists and the general public about the impact of the escalating huge quantities of pesticides and insecticides used in the cultivation of conventional cotton. Growing organic cotton is not easy, using chemicals increases yields by up to 20% and standardizes quality. Natural processes used to protect an organic crop are higher risk and makes supply more unpredictable. Resulting products are therefore more expensive and that cost is inevitably passed to the consumer.

Cotton is a natural fibre unlike nylon or polyester and it is a horrifying thought that in order to produce sufficient conventional cotton to make one tee shirt and a pair of jeans a whole pound of pesticides and fertilizers are used. This does not quite add up to being a pure, soft and breathing fabric a fact that many people are unaware of. Reasons for buying organic cotton are complex; there is a body of evidence to suggest that residuals from chemical processing can be absorbed through the skin. This is of particular concern to expectant mothers and those with babies and small children and may explain why so much of the organic cotton produced goes into making organic cotton baby and children’s clothes and underwear.

Organic food is now indelibly associated with healthy eating but organic cotton does not offer the same obvious benefits although it does tend to be of high quality. However what needs to be recognized as the most important reason for buying organic cotton is that it is better for our planet. Toxic residues from treating conventional cotton pollute soil and water and kill wildlife. It has been estimated by the World Health Organization that 20,000 cotton workers die each year from contamination. Perhaps the time has come for us to recognize that we should accept that we cannot simply say “It’s not my problem” it is everybody’s problem and time for us to take responsibility for the damage being done to the environment, workers and our future health.

We need to be supporting the providers who are trying to make a living growing organic fibers. A farmer from Benin in Africa says “while organic farming is more difficult, it saves lives from not using pesticide, we no longer have debt problems. Income is all profit at the end of the season. Land and soil are preserved.” Safia Minney of People Tree puts it this way “People will not demand organic cotton unless they understand that cotton production is a global issue and that our clothes have an environmental impact”.

About the Author:

Shula works for sonesuk in the office and also in packing items for posting out.

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