Cotton: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Many of us have grown up with a fondness for cotton. It’s the stuff summer t-shirts and shorts are made of. We associate it with everything natural and wholesome. It’s soft, washable, and all-American, right? Well, maybe not.

In many cases, cotton is not as natural and wholesome as we’d like to think. Approximately one quarter of all the insecticides used globally each year are sprayed on cotton. That is the equivalent of each t-shirt being sprayed with approximately 1 pound of insecticide. And, to make matters worse, seven of the top fifteen pesticides used on cotton (in the U.S.) have been categorized by the EPA as possible or known carcinogens. Hmmmmm…after all that, those cotton pants don’t look quite so tempting, do they?

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Consider Maharashtra, India. In the past two years, more than 500 cotton farmers have committed suicide. Why? For many reasons. Insects, for instance, are becoming immune to the pesticides, farmers are being forced to purchase new, more expensive pesticides. And, the problem is even more complicated for those who sow genetically modified cotton seeds.

To make matters worse, while the costs have gone up to produce cotton, the profit margin has gone down. In addition, many farm workers (and people who live near the farms) suffer from illnesses associated with chemical exposure, and a large number of farmers are so in debt to banks and private lenders that they see no other way out than to kill themselves (often by ingesting the pesticides they spray on the cotton).

What can we do? To be honest, the organic clothing market is still small and tends to cater to a young and/or consumer who dresses casually. This is a start, for sure. Hopefully, as the demand increases we’ll see the options expand as well. In the meantime, it is comparably easy to find things like t-shirts, sheets, towels, baby clothes, handbags, etc. made from organic cotton.

Here are a few websites to help get you started:

www.cottonfieldusa.com
www.organickids.com
www.greenbabies.com
www.gaiam.com
www.esperanzathreads.com
www.naturewearorganics.com
www.HER-design.com
www.ecochoices.com

This is really just the tip of the iceberg There is so much more to know about organic cotton (maybe for another newsletter). In the meantime, if you want more information, go to www.sustainablecotton.org.

Book Suggestion – The Rough Guide to Shopping with a Conscience, by Duncan Clark & Richie Unterberger. I picked it up at a bookstore in Rockport and couldn’t put it down until I had read the entire thing. Tons of very useful information on everything from clothing to food to fair trade to travel, etc.

Vegan Fashion Secret Read Ginger’s latest vegan fashion tip at www.salemvegan.org.

Get this issue of VegNews Magazine (Sept.-Oct. 2007). It’s the fashion issue and look for the reference to Ginger being “North America’s Vegan Image Consultant”! www.vegnews.com

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