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ORGANIC COTTON:
A BETTER ALTERNATIVE

Cotton represents about 3% of the world's crops. Pure cotton feels gentle to the skin, breathes and is amazingly soft, yet durable. Cotton's share on a fiber-weight basis grew from last year in both apparel and home fabrics. But there is a dark side to conventional cotton. Did you know? ....

The primary difference in the organic farming process is that it does not rely on the use of any synthetic compounds or chemicals to enhance production. Rather than conducting a losing chemical-warfare battle against the forces of nature, the organic farmer harnesses powerful natural processes and interaction among species to create a "cotton ecosystem" that's hard to beat.

To be able to identify cotton fiber as "Organically Grown" the grower has to certify that strict state regulations have been followed regarding the use of fertilizers, pesticides and defoliants. Organic certification in some states can only be obtained if the land has been free from toxic chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, and defoliants for a minimum of three years. "Transitional Cotton" is grown under the same stringent requirements, but on land that has been in the program for less than three years.

Organic cotton is an outgrowth of the organic food industry. Initially, organic produce farmers were encouraged to plant some of their unused acreage with cotton. The demand for organic cotton has since grown to such an extent that more and more land is being regenerated, resulting in the new "transitional cotton" classification.

"Real" organic cotton carries a premium price. This is due to the more costly organic farming methods and the cost of converting the fiber to cloth using non-toxic means, no resins or formaldehyde are used. Conversely, "Raw cotton" (also known as 'natural cotton') is typically grown with the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and defoliants; however, non-toxic processing methods are used in the conversion to cloth, thus reducing the risk that the finished garment would contain chemical residue.

Third party certification programs warrant that the fiber that touches your body is free of toxins. This is of immediate importance to the increasing number of people who are allergic to chemical traces commonly found in non-organic fabrics. If you are allergy prone, try wearing organic cotton to reduce the load on your immune system. You may be surprised by how much better you feel. Non-organically grown cotton typically requires intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides, and defoliants.

According to the Organic Trade Association's 1997-1998 survey 8,175 bales (4,087,500 pounds) of certified and transitional cotton were grown on 8,954 acres in the US. The five states growing organic cotton were Arizona, California, Missouri, New Mexico and Texas. Along with the US, Argentina, Australia, Benin, Brazil, Egypt, Greece, India, Israel, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, Turkey, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia total 18 countries and almost 8,000 tons (16,000,000 pounds or 33,333 bales) of organic cotton grown. That eliminated approximately 43,000 pounds of pesticides and 485,190 pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

The textile industry is the 6th most polluting industry in the world. According to a recent survey conducted by "Mothers & Others," the most compelling reasons consumers are inclined to purchase organic cotton garments are supporting sustainable agriculture, family farms, protection of water, wildlife, and reduced pesticide use. Consumer education of the organic cotton trade is similar to the organic food industry ten years ago. It's not just about having something organic next to your skin, but more of a holistic focus to contribute to the environmental process.

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