Organic cotton

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Organic cotton yarn

Organic cotton is generally defined as cotton that is grown organically in subtropical countries such as Turkey, China, and parts of the USA from non-genetically modified plants, and without the use of any synthetic agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers or pesticides.[1] Its production is supposed to promote and enhance biodiversity and biological cycles.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] In the 2015/2016 season, annual global production reached 107,980 metric tonnes.[5]

Ecological footprint[edit]

Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land but uses 16% of the world's pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants), more than any other single major crop.[4][6] Other environmental consequences of the elevated use of chemicals in the non organic cotton growing methods consist of:

  • High levels of agrochemicals are used in the production of non-organic, conventional cotton. Cotton production uses more chemicals per unit area than any other crop and accounts in total for 10-16% of the world's pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants).[4]
  • Chemicals used in the processing of cotton pollute the air and surface waters.
  • Decreased biodiversity and shifting equilibrium of ecosystems due to the use of pesticides.[7]

Organic certification[edit]

In the USA, it is required by the law that any producer wanting to label and sell a product as "organic" must meet the standards established by the Organic Food Production Act of 1990, enforced by The State organic program (SOP)[8] This act specifies the procedures and regulations for production and handling of organic crops.

Organic system control[citation needed][edit]

Producers must elaborate an organic production or handling system plan which must also be approved by the state certifying agency or the USDA. This plan must include careful explanation of every process held in the plantation, as well as the frequency with which they are performed. A list of substances used on the crops is also necessary, along with a description of their composition, place where they will be used, and if possible documentation of commercial availability. This inventory of substances is important for the regulation of allowed and prohibited material established by the SOP. Organic cotton growers must also provide a description of the control procedures and physical barriers established to prevent contact of organic and non organic crops on split operations and to avoid contact of organic production with prohibited substance during gestation, harvesting, and handling operations .[9] This production plan can also be transferred to other states as long as it has already been approved by a certifying agency.


Handling procedures are all the processes related to product packaging, pest control in handling processing facilities among others. The SOP allows the use of mechanical or biological methods for the purpose of retarding spoilage of products, but at the same time it prohibits the use of volatile synthetic solvents in processed products or any ingredient that is labeled as organic.


Since organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, it should contain fewer synthetic pesticides than conventional cotton. Pesticides used in the production of conventional cotton include orthophosphates such as phorate and methamidophos, endosulfan (highly toxic to farmers, but not very environmentally persistent) and aldicarb.[10] Other pesticides persisting in cotton fields in the United States include Trifluralin, Toxaphene and DDT.[11] Although the last two chemicals are no longer used in the United States [12] their long breakdown period and difficulty in removal ensures their persistence. Thus even organic cotton fields may contain them since conventional cotton fields can be transitioned to organic fields in 2–3 years.[13] Instead, organic production allows the use of poisons extracted from plants or animals.[14]

Over time though, studies have been done to find alternatives to conventional pesticide substances. These nonconventional farmers have given up their land and its yields to the testing of different, more organic ways of pest control. Organic farmers argue that conventional farmers don’t know the longterm effects of the pesticides they use, especially when the evidence is hidden under the soil. Some farmers in the US use composted tea leaves to act as a substitute for pesticides.[15] Research continues to seek new environmentally friendly ways to rid the soil of harmful pesticides. There has even been a study on using certain animal manure, like chickens, to decrease pest population.[16]

Expanding industry[edit]

Diverse institutions and campaigns are now educating the community about organic cotton and supporting growers on the switch to organic farming. The Sustainable Cotton Project is helping farmers in the transition from chemically dependent crops to more biological sound approaches.[17] This institution has launched the Cleaner Cotton project, which promises to produce cotton with 73% less use of chemicals.[18] In 2003, SCP joined the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) to strengthen its operations and reach other farm and consumer audiences. CAFF and SCP provide growers with information about biological farming techniques and educate the public about the importance of reducing chemical use in fiber and food production and supporting local farmers.[19]


Organic cotton is currently being grown successfully in many countries; the largest producers (as of 2007) are Turkey, India and China.[4]

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,[20] achieving a 90% reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides in Egypt and a 30% increase in yields.[21]

Various companies including Nike, Walmart, and C&A [22] include or have switched to organic cotton.[23] 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.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ CCVT Sustainable
  2. ^ VineYardTeam Econ Archived July 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ AMSv1
  4. ^ a b c d "Organic Cotton Facts". The Organic Trade Association. Archived from the original on 2014-11-20. Retrieved 2016-07-11. 
  5. ^ Mowbray, John (12 October 2017). "India drags on organic cotton volumes". MCL News & Media. Ecotextile. Retrieved 11 December 2017. 
  6. ^ EJF. (2007). The deadly chemicals in cotton. Environmental Justice Foundation in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network UK: London, UK. ISBN No. 1-904523-10-2.
  7. ^ Sustainable Cotton Project
  8. ^ AMSv1
  9. ^ SOP Land Requirements
  10. ^ Pesticide Action Network
  11. ^ "Trace organic contaminants, including toxaphene and trifluralin, in cotton field soils from Georgia and South Carolina, USA". Arch. Environ. Contam. Toxicol. 45 (1): 30–6. July 2003. doi:10.1007/s00244-002-0267-7. PMID 12948170. 
  12. ^ Dirty dozen (Stockholm Convention)
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ "Pest Management". Organic Cotton. 
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Sustainable Cotton
  18. ^ SPC/Manufacturers
  19. ^ SPC/Who We Are Archived 2012-03-02 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ Organic cotton projects in Africa
  21. ^ CSR case study Archived 2008-02-18 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ "We Care: Acting Sustainably" (PDF). C&R. 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  23. ^

External links[edit]