Why Organic Cotton

Do I really need organic cotton?

If you are concerned about your health, the health of your family or of the environment, the answer is “Yes!”  If you are concerned for the health of the cotton farmers and their family, the answer is “Yes!”  Most people understand the value of putting organic foods into their bodies and avoiding toxic foods and substances.  But why people need to start buying organic cotton clothing, bedding and other products is not as widely understood.  Once you read this short article, you will understand the value of buying organic cotton.

Did You Know?

Cotton is the most toxic crop on earth.  Cotton uses about 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides.  In California, 5 of the top 9 pesticides used on cotton are cancer causing.  It takes about 1/3 of a pound of synthetic agricultural chemicals to grow one pound of cotton (enough for about one T-shirt.)  In the US, conventional cotton farmers use about 53 million pounds of toxic pesticides on their fields every year!  By contrast, organic farms are good for the environment and have more birds in their fields and more wild plants.  Organic farming works in harmony with nature.  The top pesticides are: Aldicarb (highly toxic, lethal in small doses, banned in 3 states), Chlorpyrifos (cumulative fetotoxin, delayed neurotoxin), Cyanazine (causes birth defects and cancer), Dicofol (causes cancer, reproductive damage and tumors), Ethephon (suspect mutagen which causes a change/mutation in the genetic material of a living cell, also is toxic to fish and birds), Glyphosate (suspect carcinogen and mutagen), Meamsodium (causes birth defects and is toxic to developing babies), this list goes on and on and on…

Conventional cotton farming is dangerous.  Pesticides used on cotton cause acute poisonings, chronic illness, and death to farm workers around the world.  The farmers’ families are also affected.  Acute respiratory symptoms and other health problems are found in communities around cotton farms that use defoliation chemicals.  In 1995, pesticide runoff from cotton fields killed over 240,000 fish in Alabama.  This is just one example the deadly effects of these chemicals.  This is a local problem and a global problem.

The poisons used in making cotton are not removed when they make your clothes and bedding…in fact, they usually add more poisons to them! A cotton poly blend T-shirt can release approximately one quarter of its weight in air pollutants and 10 times its weight in carbon dioxide. Mercury, aluminum, arsenic, formaldehyde (which causes cancers) and other poisons are all commonly used in the process of making clothes, bedding and other cotton products.  You end up wearing these toxic dyes, finishes and chemical treatments.  The skin is designed to “breathe” and can readily absorb a lot of toxins…especially delicate baby skin.  If you think about what your T-shirt is made of and remember how nicotine patches work, you’ll understand why wearing conventional cotton is a risk!

Conventional cotton makes many corporations rich and kills and hurts a lot of hard working people.  1/3 of American cotton farms produced ¾ of all US cotton in 1997.  The Pesticide Action Network says that 20,000 farmers die every year as a result of chemicals used in growing conventional cotton.  As many as 3 million more get sick.  Sweatshop workers in Mexico earn 85 cents an hour for their labor. Indonesians make only 15 cents an hour. Even in the US, workers can earn less than 5 dollars for making a garment that sells for $100.  Many leading brands of clothing continue to ship jobs overseas where sweatshops are the norm.

Calling conventional cotton “natural” is debatable!  2/3 of US cotton has been genetically engineered to exude insecticides and survive high does of toxic herbicides.  This is a threat to public health and also causes environmental problems.  The average “100%” cotton T-shirt is only 73% cotton and 27% chemicals and residues (e.g. pesticides and cancer causing formaldehyde, etc.) used to grow the cotton and process the garment.

Synthetic fabrics are derived from petroleum.  This isn’t very attractive or environmentally healthy.  The price of cheap synthetics goes way beyond way you pay to buy it in the store.

Many toxic chemicals and poisons that we put into the environment eventually make their way into our bodies and our kids’ bodies…including pregnant women’s growing babies.  The Environmental Working Group has done studies that show hundreds of chemicals are already in the bodies of newborns by studying the umbilical cord blood.  This is of particular concern since growing babies and young children can be affected in ways that adults are not.  More than ever it is important to see that we are all connected and that we are intimately a part of the planet. What we do to the planet (and our cotton fields), we do to ourselves.  Our son was personally affected by an almost deadly birth defect.  Now that we know personally the torture that babies go through to survive, we cannot in good conscious do anything to contribute to birth defects around the world. 

But What Can I Do About It?

Buy Organic merchandise:  Every garment made from organic cotton saves about 1/3 of a pound of synthetic fertilizers and farm chemicals from polluting the soil.  Organic fields are required to be free of synthetically-derived chemicals for 3 years to obtain organic certification.  Buy clothing that is made with eco-friendly dyes and processing.  Every organic cotton product you buy generates demand which eventually lowers the price and makes it easier for us all to make healthy choices.  Vote with your dollars!

Take action:  Write the people that represent you in government and let your local retailers know about your concerns.  (You can do this easily at the Organic Consumers Association website.)  Tell your friends and loved ones what you’ve just learned by forwarding this article!  Bring it up in conversation and let people know that there are healthy alternatives available now! Donate your old clothing and only buy what you really need – do not replace your wardrobe every year with cheap “trendy” clothes.  What you buy can kill or save – you get to decide!

Going organic is the thing to do!  More people are realizing the importance of living environmentally friendly, harmonious lives. Going organic helps us all!  As a caring person who wants to be healthy and wants their loved ones to be healthy, vote with your dollar to change the world one organic garment at a time!

Image Credit: Mike Beauregard


“Clothes for a Change”  Organic Consumers Association.  www.organicconsumers.org

Environmental Working Group www.ewg.org

“Got Cotton? The Sustainable Cotton Project’s Cotton Fact Sheet”  www.sustainablecotton.org

Howies.co.uk http://www.howies.co.uk/content.php?xId=1&xPg=1

Pesticide Action Network  www.panna.org

Worldwatch Institute  www.worldwatch.org

© 2007-2014 Katie Blair. This article is for informational purposes only. No health claims are made.