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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 footprintEdit

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]

Organic certificationEdit

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)[9] This act specifies the procedures and regulations for production and handling of organic crops. A list of approved organic chemicals is available. [10].

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria.

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 .[11] 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.


If certified by the USDA, organic cotton is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and contains no synthetic pesticides. Pesticides used in the production of conventional cotton include orthophosphates such as phorate and methamidophos, endosulfan (highly toxic to farmers) and aldicarb.[12] Other pesticides persisting in cotton fields in the United States include Trifluralin, Toxaphene and DDT.[13] Although the last two chemicals are no longer used in the United States [14] their long breakdown period and difficulty in removal ensures their persistence. 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] Instead, organic production allows the use of natural insect repellents extracted from plants or otherwise benign sources.[16] 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. [17]

Over time though, studies have been done to find alternatives to conventional pesticide substances. These organic farmers have found ways to create organic cotton to nearly the yields of conventional farmers [18]. Some farmers in the US use composted tea leaves to act as a substitute for pesticides.[19] 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.[20]

Expanding industryEdit

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.[21] This institution has launched the Cleaner Cotton project, which promises to produce cotton with 73% less use of chemicals.[22] 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.[23]


Organic cotton is currently being grown successfully in many countries; the largest producers (as of 2018) are India (51%), China (19%), Turkey (7%) and Kyrgyzstan (7%).[24]

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,[25] achieving a 90% reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides in Egypt and a 30% increase in yields.[26]

Various companies including Fazzoni, Nike, Walmart, and C&A [27] include or have switched to organic cotton.[28] 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.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ CCVT Sustainable
  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). Retrieved 2018-12-12.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Sustainable Cotton Project
  9. ^ AMSv1
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ SOP Land Requirements
  12. ^ Pesticide Action Network
  13. ^ "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.
  14. ^ Dirty dozen (Stockholm Convention)
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^ "Pest Management". Organic Cotton.
  17. ^ "Organic Transparency". Alterra Pure.
  18. ^ "FieldTrials". Rodale Institute.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Sustainable Cotton
  22. ^ SPC/Manufacturers
  23. ^ SPC/Who We Are Archived 2012-03-02 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "2018 organic cotton market report". Textile Exchange. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  25. ^ Organic cotton projects in Africa
  26. ^ CSR case study Archived 2008-02-18 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ "We Care: Acting Sustainably" (PDF). C&R. 2012. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  28. ^

External linksEdit