Organic Cotton – Am I Bothered?

When you talk to anyone who is interested in health and fitness issues they are generally aware of the concept and ideas behind the organic food market. But conversely there is very little consciousness of agricultural products which are grown to provide textiles and the methods involved. We tend to forget that clothes come from plants too. Whilst wearing non organic cotton has not been proved to be directly bad for people’s health it does have a very significant impact on those who cultivate the raw product and the environment we live in.

Although cotton is principally grown to provide a textile for us to wear it also yields valuable by- products such as cottonseed oil which is extremely crude and requires chemical refining to make it edible. This is used together with the husks as an ingredient in many livestock feeds and also in human food.

Conventionally grown cotton is intensively treated with pesticides and insecticides many of which are not used on other conventionally grown crops. Where do the chemicals go? Often seeping into rivers, streams and ultimately the sea. There is at least a chance that that chemical residue can enter the food chain. At least three chemicals used in production are perceived as so dangerous that 120 countries agreed in 2001 to ban them but this has not so far been implemented.

For example an ingredient called endosulfan which is widely used in many pesticides and plays an important part in conventional cotton cultivation to control the boll weevil. This is still used in developing countries although The World Health Organisation has classified endosulfan as moderately dangerous due to its poisonous effects. The American Environment Agency classifies it as highly dangerous.

It has a broad spectrum efficacy against insects and mites and is used as a contact poison. Because the patent has expired it is also a less expensive option to use. As it is broad spectrum it not only kills target organisms but other non target organisms and it is associated with many cases of poisoning which occur in developing countries. Many people are careful to avoid genetically modified foods but are blissfully unaware that the cotton they are wearing comes from genetically modified plants but this is a whole new discussion.

The National Cancer Institute has reported that environmental factors are responsible for 80-90% of all cancers. These include lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet and alcohol which are widely reported and commented upon; but other factors include radiation, infectious agents and chemicals in water, air and soil. All in all food for thought.


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