Why Does ORGANIC Matter? What Does It Mean To You?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the question, “what’s organic cotton?” or “why should I worry about if cotton is organic or not?”. I can only encourage you to take the time to read the following information. It’s extremely important to the health of our environment, our economy, our children and ourselves. Sustainability doesn't end with cotton, but it's a big start.
Perhaps more than any other agricultural product, short-staple upland cotton (which accounts for over 90% of USA cotton production) is the number one charlatan of our era. Enormous amounts of money has been spent in advertising and promotion to convince us that cotton is this wonderful, natural product that we all should support and purchase. In the past few decades, the myriad of products produced with 100% cotton have been produced and consumed at record levels under the guise that cotton is the choice of Mother Nature. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Next to corn, cotton is the largest agricultural product in the United States. The USA grows approximately 14 million acres of cotton, making us the second largest producer in the world. China is number one, however it uses most of its cotton; the USA exports between 40-60% of all its cotton.The tremendous expansion of cotton output has been accompanied by a proportionate increase in ecological damage, social deterioration and government malfeasance. Here are a few things to remember the next time you slip on one of your favorite cotton shirts:
Each year, nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides are applied to cotton fields worldwide, with approximately 35% of the total ending up on USA fields. In 2000, farmers in the main USA cotton growing states used over 75 million pounds of pesticides. These figures are easily "slipped under the radar" due to the misconception that cotton is not a food, so people are relatively unconcerned by this massive chemical use. The fact is that cotton is an important food product. In the USA alone, nearly 7 million pounds of cotton seed a year is used for cattle feed, both meat and dairy, as well as for the cottonseed oil commonly used in margarine, cookies, chips and other processed foods. As we ingest the products related to cotton in large quantities, there is a natural concern for our health and the health of future generations. So if you or your children eat meat or any dairy products, you should be aware that cotton seed has been a part of the feed of the food you’re ingesting. You are what you eat.
The unified cotton industry represents a $60 billion a year sector of our economy. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to realize the power the National Cotton Council wields in Washington. So far, seed and chemical companies have not been held responsible for damage caused by chemical runoff, water poisoning, gene transfer and other forms of pollution, potentially saving them billions of dollars. The U.S. government’s cotton subsidy program (established in the 1930's) creates huge economic benefits for industrial cotton growers in the form of contract payments and non-recourse government and banking loans. Who pays for all of this? You guessed it: the U.S. General Accounting Office estimates the American taxpayer pays out billions a year; and the cost is going up.
Here are a few more items to be concerned about, and the list goes on.
* From 1995 to 2001, 78% of the US subsidies for cotton went to only 10% of the cotton farmers‹about 2000 farmers.
* Before NAFTA and GATT were passed US spinning mills consumed 12 million bales of cotton and the US shipped out about 6 or 7 million. Currently, domestic mill use is closer to 7 million bales, but US growers continue to produce about the same amount of cotton. Consequently, the US now exports 5 million more bales of subsidized cotton than it did before NAFTA.
* More than 11 million of bales (480lbs. per bale) of US cotton per year were dumped on the world market from 1995 to 2003 at rock bottom prices. The price of cotton dropped to 48 cents in 1997 and bottomed out at 28 cents in 2000. Until 2003 the price continued to sell in the 48 cent range. At 48 cents a pound, cotton was being sold at about 30 cents less than the average cost to grow it and 40 cents less than the average of what US farmers received for it at the cotton gin.
* In India, low prices for cotton and high prices for chemicals have caused tens of thousands of farmers to go bankrupt. As a result, there have been more than 20,000 cotton farmer suicides since 1995. Additional thousands of Indian farmers sold their kidneys into the world organ market to pay their pesticide and fertilizer bill to Monsanto, Cargill or multinational banks.
* In Africa more than ten million people directly depend on cotton exports for their livelihood. Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso have lost twice as much on the drop in cotton prices as they received in US foreign aid. This has driven more than 4% of each country¹s population into abject poverty and prompted a common African lament which goes: The more we produce The more we export The poorer we get!
* More than a million Mexican farmers lost their land since the passage of NAFTA and the subsequent dumping of surplus US corn, cotton, wheat and other crops The dumping of subsidized crops (especially corn and cotton) into the Mexican markets drove prices below the cost of production. Small farmers could not compete and were driven out of business and off the land.
* In 1946 the average size of the US cotton farm was 17 acres and there were more than a million cotton farmers. Today, cotton farms average over 1,000 acres. Before NAFTA there were 40,000 cotton farms, today, there are only 20,000 left.
* Only 36% of the US farmers receive all of the crop subsidies. 64% of US farmers receive none. Only 3.6% of the US farmers received 71% of all the government payments. The next 3.6% got 15%, which means that 7.2% of the farms received 86% of all the US subsidy payments.
* Besides being highly subsidized, cotton is the most toxic crop in the world. Cotton uses more than twenty-five percent of all the insecticides in the world and 12% of all the pesticides. Cotton growers use 25% of all the pesticides used in the US. Yet cotton is farmed on only 3% of the world¹s farmland.
* California is one of the only states where farmers are required to provide pesticide use reports. The California EPA reported that only15 chemicals accounted for 77% of the pesticides used on cotton from 1989 to 1998 and that these were some of the most toxic chemicals in the world. Cal EPA and US EPA analyses illustrate that seven of these fifteen most used cotton chemicals were probable cancer-causing pesticides, eight caused tumors and five caused mutations. Twelve of the top fifteen cotton pesticides in California caused birth defects, ten caused multiple birth defects, and thirteen were toxic or very toxic to fish or birds or both.
* On the average, seven times as many pounds of toxic fertilizer are regularly used on cotton as are pesticides. Cotton fertilizers have fouled the air and polluted rivers, groundwater basins and aquifers wherever cotton is grown.
* Cotton fertilizers and pesticides have killed and injured millions of fish, birds, and other wildlife as well as countless thousands of rural residents.
* In addition to GMO cotton seed and gin trash, the cows are also fed GMO corn and soybeans. Many are also shot up with genetically modified bovine growth hormones. This makes milk one of the most toxically produced and genetically modified products. Since kids drink the bulk of the milk in the US, kids get the most poison as well the most exposure to genetically modified bacteria, viruses, hormones and antibodies.
* Subsidies must end to millionaire and billionaire farmers who are obviously poisoning the land, poisoning consumers and bankrupting small farmers and rural communities in the US and around the world. Subsidies for the mega rich corporate farmers should be immediately put on a fast track to sunset.
* The current subsidies to the corporate rich should be redirected to existing water quality, pest control, and fertility management programs that have been enacted by Congress but which are currently under-funded.
* Bale tax money (about $2.10 per bale), which funds both the Cotton Council and Cotton Incorporated, should be redirected to local infrastructure development in cotton growing communities, a retooling of our domestic garment industry, and value added programs for cotton farmers and cooperatives.