The number of adults and children who suffer from allergies, asthma, sick building syndrome, and cancer is growing rapidly. Many of these health problems have been linked with toxic man-made chemicals in the products that we keep closest to our bodies, food, clothing, home products, bedding- the items we use and surround ourselves with everyday.
Cotton is the third most heavily sprayed crop in the world, and the most common pesticides are all classified by the World Health Organization as "moderately hazardous" or worse. Illness and death are frequently caused by pesticide contamination of water or food, or spray drift hitting homes and farmers.
Pesticide and fertilizer overuse can also cause fertility to decrease in fields. (See Uzbekistan.) Pests can become resistant to pesticides, and with natural systems for controlling pests eliminated by monoculture crops and heavy application of chemicals, unstoppable infestations can result that completely destroy crops yields. (See India.)
Organic cotton production relies on the diversification of crops and careful management of the micro-ecosystem to control pests. While it requires more thought and diligence, and produces smaller output, money is saved in the elimination of chemical additive expenses and recouped in the premiums paid for organic goods.
Cotton is the most important fiber in the global economy, meeting about 50 percent of textile demand worldwide. (Silk, wool and flax together provide about 10 percent.) If cotton production worldwide could be switched to organic, a tremendous step would be taken toward building a sustainable system for our future.
Large and small farmers have proven willing, even excited to make the switch upon being educated about the dangers of conventional techniques and the economic and health benefits of the organic model. Businesses around the world are recognizing the demand. Big name brands like Wal-Mart, Gap, and American Apparel are phasing in organic cotton products.
But change starts and ends with you, the consumer. By choosing organic, you are contributing to the sustainable future our grandchildren will someday thank us for.
How Pesticides Hurt, Case Study: India
Farms have been abandoned on a large scale due to the "pesticide treadmill" in parts of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Pakistan, Sudan and Egypt, but nowhere have the consequences been so tragically demonstrated as in India in 1997. In the Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh state, cotton was grown on nearly a quarter of all the arable land. Because increasing yields drove prices down, farmers turned to using more pesticides in an effort to raise yields even further and to keep their profit margins. Monoculture fields and heavy use of chemical additives had already made the land vulnerable to pests when a massive infestation struck in November 1997.
Farmers, desperate to save their crops, bought massive amounts of pesticide on credit at interest rates as high as 36 percent, spraying as frequently as every other day instead of the recommended twice per season. But the pests had already developed resistance to the toxins and destroyed the crops. Farmers were heavily indebted to pesticide suppliers, landlords and moneylenders. They had no income to pay off their debts, or even to feed their families. Over 80 cotton farmers committed suicide between June 1997 and January 1998 by taking the pesticide they were using on their cotton.
How Pesticides Hurt, Case Study: Uzbekistan
In Uzbekistan, intensive pesticide use and poor irrigation practices have led to such a high level of contamination that fields have become barren. The Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest body of fresh water, has been 60 percent drained for irrigation, and the rest is too saline and polluted with pesticides to support fish. A salt desert, created on parts of the dry lake bed, spawns dust storms that threaten human crops and health in neighboring areas. Pesticides pollute remaining drinking water supplies, with a frightening increase in childhood blood disease and birth defects.