You probably don’t think "GMO" when you buy a cotton T-shirt. But Monsanto now grows about half of the world’s cotton on more than 40 million acres. The top three countries producing BT cotton are India, China and the USA. In the USA, GMO cotton uses half of the pesticides that are sprayed in America.
Monsanto’s control over the cotton seed market in India has been agriculturally and economically devastating. Millions of small cotton farmers have been duped into buying Monsanto’s high-priced GMO seeds, only to go bankrupt. In despair, more than 250,000 cotton farmers have committed suicide to relieve their families of the debt.
What is Organic Clothing?
Organic clothing is clothing made from materials raised or grown in compliance with organic agricultural standards. Organic clothing may be composed of cotton, jute, silk, ramie, or wool. Retailers charge more for organic clothing because the source of the clothing's fibre are free from herbicides, pesticides, or genetically modified seeds.
Authentic organic fabrics and clothing can help the environment in a number of ways, such as:
- Eliminating the use of GMO BT Cotton products from Monsanto
- Encouraging higher-quality natural resources such as industrial hemp that require no herbicides nor pesticides
- Use of pesticides and herbicides are not required
- Pesticide or herbicide residues are not entered accidentally into the environment
- Humans and animals are not exposed to pesticides or herbicides
- When the fabric is discarded, pesticides and herbicides are not returned to the earth in landfill, or enter into recycling process
Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world's insecticides, more than any other single major crop. It can take almost a 1/3 pound of synthetic fertilizers to grow one pound of raw cotton in the US, and it takes just under one pound of raw cotton to make one t-shirt.
Many high street retailers market organic clothing ranges that contain chemicals from the dyeing to bleaching process, which is inconsistent with the idea of organic clothing. Many companies sell clothing made from bamboo, which is commonly labeled as "organic", however this is a false statement. Bamboo fabric is typically chemically manufactured by “cooking” the bamboo leaves and woody shoots in strong chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide, in a process also known as hydrolysis alkalization combined with multi-phase bleaching. Both sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide have been linked to serious health problems. This finished material is similar to rayon and modal, which are more accurate terms of describing bamboo fabrics. Criticism also concerns the high cost of the products.
Organic cotton is generally understood as cotton and is grown in subtropical countries such as Turkey, China, USA from non genetically modified plants, that is to be grown without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides. Its production also promotes and enhances biodiversity and biological cycles. In the United States cotton plantations must also meet the requirements enforced by the National Organic Program (NOP), from the USDA, in order to be considered organic. This institution determines the allowed practices for pest control, growing, fertilizing, and handling of organic crops. As of 2007, 265,517 bales of organic cotton were produced in 24 countries and worldwide production was growing at a rate of more than 50% per year.
Organic cotton is currently being grown successfully in many countries; the largest producers (as of 2007) are Turkey, India and China.
Organic cotton production in Africa takes place in at least 8 countries. The earliest producer (1990) was the SEKEM organization in Egypt; the farmers involved later convinced the Egyptian government to convert 400,000 hectares of conventional cotton production to integrated methods, achieving a 90% reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides in Egypt and a 30% increase in yields.
With each year more and more companies like Nike, Wal-Mart, and even C&A (a European Fashion distributor) have made the jump from conventional farming of cotton to organic. As of 2011, China, the U.S., India, Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Greece, Australia, Syria, Mali, and Egypt are all producing organic cotton. With this rise in demand from 2007 to 2011 more and more countries are making the switch.
Organic clothing are produced using methods of organic farming – that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, [food] processors, retailers and restaurants.
Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:
- no human sewage sludge fertilizer used in cultivation of plants or feed of animals
- avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc.), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge;
- use of farmland that has been free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more);
- keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail);
- maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products;
- undergoing periodic on-site inspections.
In some countries, certification is overseen by the government, and commercial use of the term organic is legally restricted. Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.
To certify a farm, the farmer is typically required to engage in a number of new activities, in addition to normal farming operations:
- Study the organic standards, which cover in specific detail what is and is not allowed for every aspect of farming, including storage, transport and sale.
- Compliance — farm facilities and production methods must comply with the standards, which may involve modifying facilities, sourcing and changing suppliers, etc.
- Documentation — extensive paperwork is required, detailing farm history and current set-up, and usually including results of soil and water tests.
- Planning — a written annual production plan must be submitted, detailing everything from seed to sale: seed sources, field and crop locations, fertilization and pest control activities, harvest methods, storage locations, etc.
- Inspection — annual on-farm inspections are required, with a physical tour, examination of records, and an oral interview.
- Fee — an annual inspection/certification fee (currently starting at $400 to $2,000/year, in the US and Canada, depending on the agency and the size of the operation).
- Record-keeping — written, day-to-day farming and marketing records, covering all activities, must be available for inspection at any time.
In addition, short-notice or surprise inspections can be made, and specific tests (e.g. soil, water, plant tissue) may be requested.
For first-time farm certification, the soil must meet basic requirements of being free from use of prohibited substances (synthetic chemicals, etc.) for a number of years. A conventional farm must adhere to organic standards for this period, often two to three years. This is known as being in transition. Transitional crops are not considered fully organic.
Certification for operations other than farms follows a similar process. The focus is on the quality of ingredients and other inputs, and processing and handling conditions. A transport company would be required to detail the use and maintenance of its vehicles, storage facilities, containers, and so forth. A restaurant would have its premises inspected and its suppliers verified as certified organic.
In some countries, organic standards are formulated and overseen by the government. The United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan have comprehensive organic legislation, and the term "organic" may be used only by certified producers. Being able to put the word "organic" on a food product is a valuable marketing advantage in today's consumer market, but does not guarantee the product is legitimately organic. Certification is intended to protect consumers from misuse of the term, and make buying organics easy. However, the organic labeling made possible by certification itself usually requires explanation. In countries without organic laws, government guidelines may or may not exist, while certification is handled by non-profit organizations and private companies.
Internationally, equivalency negotiations are underway, and some agreements are already in place, to harmonize certification between countries, facilitating international trade. There are also international certification bodies, including members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) working on harmonization efforts. Where formal agreements do not exist between countries, organic product for export is often certified by agencies from the importing countries, who may establish permanent foreign offices for this purpose. In 2011 IFOAM introduced a new program - the IFOAM Family of Standards - that attempts to simplify harmonization. The vision is to establish the use of one single global reference (the COROS) to access the quality of standards rather than focusing on bilateral agreements.
OCA's "Clothes for a Change" Campaign