…. there are more reasons to avoid conventional cotton than you might think!
Awareness is undoubtedly growing about the benefits of "going organic" and side-stepping from organic food, organic cotton products are becoming easier to find in the UK, but many parents don't really know about the numerous benefits of opting for organic cotton for their baby, rather than conventionally grown cotton.
High street giant, H&M, is doing an impressive job with its Conscious range, of encouraging shoppers to choose organic cotton clothing, when they perhaps wouldn't typically. It always wonder though how many of H&M's "unconsciously Conscious" shoppers actually know quite what organic cotton represents and what are the many benefits. It wouldn't surprise me if a considerable chunk of the clothing giant's organic sales are actually generated solely by the aesthetic appeal of a garment, rather than by a deliberate decision to buy organic cotton for it's purity or ethical reasons.
So for anyone who's wondering why organic cotton is a better choice… for you, your family and forthe environment, here are some really compelling reasons to Go Organic with fabrics in mind and not just food…
This is probably the best recognised attribute of organic cotton, but the majority of consumers don't realise quite how horrific conventional cotton is environmentally, on a global scale.
Non-organic cotton is one of the worst crops in the world for pesticide use, with an obscenely high level of chemical saturation and staggeringly disproportionate use of pesticides, compared to other crops. The consequences of this are complex, numerous and far-reaching.
Organic cotton farming involves using traditional and natural methods of repelling or deterring pests, in doing so, protecting the crops without the necessity for harmful chemical use.
No chemical nasties against skin, or in your children's mouths
Closer to home and in terms of our families, many parents are wising up to using organic cotton for their little ones – and for themselves - with the knowledge that residues of pesticides and other chemical nasties can remain in end products that are made with non-organic cotton.
Whether it's our babies' and children's bedding, their clothing, or their soft toys, we just don't want toxic chemicals against their skin… equally not in their mouths either, as is the inevitable case with babies' and toddlers' soft toys.
Non-irritant for eczema or allergy-prone skin
Children - and particularly babies - have underdeveloped immune systems and have naturally delicate and sensitive skin. With eczema and skin sensitivities ever on the rise, organic cotton is the purest natural fabric option, helping to avoid unnecessary irritation, flare-ups or adverse reactions. Synthetic, non-breathable, fabrics also tend to encourage overheating and that, in turn, aggravates skin conditions like eczema.
Organic cotton farming also prohibits the use of synthetic fertilisers, by-products of the petroleum industry, which contaminate the soil and contribute to climate change, due to the large amounts of carbon dioxide they release. Organic farmers, however, use crop rotation to allow fields to naturally replenish the nutrients in the soil.
By converting to organic farming and not being reliant on expensive pesticides, farmers can diversify their crops, improving and maintaining fertile, healthy and unpolluted soil.
Despite all the claims by scientists, GM crops aren't the solution to reducing pesticides, increasing yields, nor any of the other pseudo advantages that have been touted in favour of this dangerous area of science. As The Soil Association puts it, "The GM industry is built on empty promises, but very real dangers."
GM cotton is strictly prohibited within organic standards so organic certification provides a guarantee that organic cotton is always GM-free.
Pesticides and chemical run-off from conventional cotton farming contaminate air, water and soil quality, across broad neighbouring areas. Hazardous chemicals used in cotton production impact heavily on the environment, fragile ecosystems and human inhabitants in surrounding regions.
One catastrophic example of the effects of conventional cotton farming was the drying up of the Aral Sea - once the world's fourth largest inland lake. This was caused by water from this Sea being diverted to cotton fields for irrigation in Uzbekistan. The UN Secretary General in 2010 called it "one of the planet's worst environmental disasters". Marine life, fishing communities, forests and wetlands were decimated and heavy pesticide contamination on the then-exposed sea bed created carcinogenic dust. This was whipped up and blown across vast areas and is blamed for many significant health issues in those regions, including highly elevated rates of throat cancers, birth defects and respiratory diseases.
Organic cotton farming also uses less water – according to the World Wildlife Fund, it can take more than 20,000 litres of precious water to produce just 1kg of conventional cotton.
Entire communities are heavily impacted by conventional cotton farming. Every year, pesticide poisoning claims the lives of an estimated 20,000 - 40,000 men, women and children who work in the cotton fields, with an eye-watering 77 million cotton workers suffering pesticide poisoning annually.
Chronic health issues, such as cancer, birth defects, miscarriage and respiratory and neurological diseases, are attributed to workers' contact with these hazardous agricultural chemicals. These figures are shocking but not so surprising, given the high risks of working with such potently toxic chemicals, often without protective equipment and with 100 million farmers growing cotton across 80 countries.
Being equipped with protective clothing is usually both unaffordable and utterly unworkable, in the heat of the Third World countries that make up such a large proportion of the world's cotton producers.
Pesticide Acton Network UK (PAN-UK) tells one particularly harrowing, tragic, tale of a West African farmer who, after a day of spraying cotton fields with a highly toxic pesticide, came home and put his chemical-saturated overalls on the roof of his home, to keep them away from his children. That night, it rained heavily. The next morning, his four children got up early to play and drank from water buckets which were often left out to catch their home's run-off rainwater, as a means of collecting clean water. After drinking the contaminated water, the children rapidly became very unwell and were rushed to a local healthcare unit, but heartbreakingly, all four children (all of whom were under the age of 8) had died by the following day.
Helping to tackle poverty
Poverty is rife in many cotton-producing regions, with the cost of pesticides driving many conventional cotton farmers further into debt and limiting their opportunities to make a sustainable living.
The methods used in organic cotton farming promote crop diversity. This, in turn, helps to safeguard farmers against the potentially devastating financial consequences of low crop yields, variations in global demand or prices and climate conditions.
The Soil Association teamed up with GOTS, the organic certification organisation, with a campaign called CottonedOn, to raise awareness of the benefits of organic cotton and the toxic and damaging facts around conventional organic cotton farming.
You can find more information and sign up to receive updates and news relating to this initiative at http://www.cottonedon.org/.