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 India, 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] aside from the ones allowed by the certified organic labeling. 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 2016/2017 season, annual global production reached 3.2 million metric tonnes.[5][6]

Ecological footprint[edit]

Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated land but uses 10-16% of the world's pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants), more than any other single major crop.[4][7] Environmental consequences of the elevated use of chemicals in the non-organic cotton growing methods include the following:

  • 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.[8]

As is the case for any comparison between organic and "conventional" crops, care must be taken to standardise by yield rather than land area. Like many crops, yields (per hectare) in organic cotton farms are typically significantly lower compared to conventional methods;[9] this yield gap means that the water used to produce the same amount of cotton fibre can in fact be higher in organic, compared to conventional cotton cultivation.[10]


If certified by the USDA, organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.[11] However, organic growers are able to use a suite of organically approved pesticides, including pyrethrins from plant material, copper sulfate as a molluscicide and fungicide, and a range of insecticidal soaps, among others. Application rates of organic pesticides can often exceed those in conventional cultivation systems due in part to the large yield deficits in organic cropping systems,[12] and organic pesticides can be at least as toxic as their conventional counterparts.[13]

By comparison, conventional cotton can be grown using a range of synthetic pesticides.[14] Fields converted from conventional use to organic cotton must be tested to assure no residual pesticide with a transition period of 2–3 years in this process.[15] In some cases, companies have taken to testing for pesticide residual of fiber or fabric themselves to assure cheating does not occur on the part of the farmers or farm coops.[16] Use of insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and water have all declined in conventional systems as a direct result of the widespread adoption of genetically modified cotton, which currently accounts for over 95% of cotton grown in the U.S., India and China.[17] Organic certification [18] prohibits use of genetically modified (GM) varieties.

Distribution of Organic Cotton Production[edit]

Organic cotton farmer in Kyrgyzstan

Organic cotton is only 1-2% of global cotton production, and is currently being grown in many countries. The largest producers (as of 2018) are India (51%), China (19%), Turkey (7%) and Kyrgyzstan (7%).[19] 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 industry initiatives[22] aim to support organic growers, and various companies, including Nike, Walmart, and C&A[23] now incorporate organic cotton as part of their supply chains[24] The United States Organic Trade Association states that the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is considered the world's leading certification of organic fibers.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CCVT Sustainable". Archived from the original on 2009-06-23. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  2. ^ VineYardTeam Econ Archived July 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ AMSv1
  4. ^ a b "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. ^ Organic Cotton Market Report 2017 (PDF) (Report). Textile Exchange. 2017.
  7. ^ The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton. Environmental Justice Foundation (Report). 31 December 2007.
  8. ^ "Sustainable Cotton Project". Archived from the original on 2012-03-20. Retrieved 2009-12-02.
  9. ^ Seufert, Verena; Ramankutty, Navin; Foley, Jonathan A. (25 April 2012). "Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture". Nature. 485 (7397): 229–232. doi:10.1038/nature11069. PMID 22535250. S2CID 2702124.
  10. ^ Bain, Marc (28 May 2017). "Your organic cotton t-shirt might be worse for the environment than regular cotton". Quartz.
  11. ^ Pesticide Action Network
  12. ^ Forster, Dionys; Andres, Christian; Verma, Rajeev; Zundel, Christine; Messmer, Monika M.; Mäder, Paul (4 December 2013). "Yield and Economic Performance of Organic and Conventional Cotton-Based Farming Systems – Results from a Field Trial in India". PLOS ONE. 8 (12): e81039. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081039. PMC 3852008. PMID 24324659.
  13. ^ Bahlai, Christine A.; Xue, Yingen; McCreary, Cara M.; Schaafsma, Arthur W.; Hallett, Rebecca H. (22 June 2010). "Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans". PLOS ONE. 5 (6): e11250. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011250. PMC 2889831. PMID 20582315.
  14. ^ "Pest Management". Organic Cotton.
  15. ^ Luppino, Rita. "Transitional Cotton Challenge". Textile Exchange.
  16. ^ "Organic Transparency". Alterra Pure.
  17. ^[full citation needed]
  18. ^ "What is GOTS?".
  19. ^ "2018 organic cotton market report". Textile Exchange. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  20. ^ Organic cotton projects in Africa
  21. ^ CSR case study Archived 2008-02-18 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Sustainable Cotton
  23. ^ "We Care: Acting Sustainably" (PDF). C&R. 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  24. ^ Condit, Brendan; Marquardt, Sandra (2009). "Organic Cotton Production and Markets Continue to Grow". Cotton International Magazine. p. 35. ProQuest 228993213.
  25. ^ "Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)". OTA. Organic Trade Association.

External links[edit]