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Did you know that every conventional cotton product we use has an effect on what we eat and that the by-products of conventional cotton production used in our clothing, personal care, bedding, furniture etc. goes back into our food supply? Here are a few facts you need to know about cotton: 

Conventional Cotton is Poisonous: 

Cotton is considered the world’s dirtiest crop due to its heavy use of pesticides.  Aldicarb, cotton’s second best-selling insecticide and most acutely poisonous to humans and wildlife, is still used in 25 countries, including the U.S., where 16 states reported it in their groundwater. The dangers are recognized by the EPA and they have signaled its phase out in 2018.

Worldwide, cotton covers 2.5% of the cultivated land and cotton growers use 16% of the world’s pesticides. Eight of the top 10 pesticides most commonly used on U.S. conventionally produced cotton were classified as moderately to highly hazardous by the World Health Organization. The Environmental Justice Foundation elaborates more on the world wide negative effects of pesticide use in cotton.

Cotton (83%) is one of the top four GMO crops produced in the world which includes soy (89%), canola (75%) and corn (61%). GMO cotton production ranks ninth in global crop production.  Read more on GMO’s in my Organic Matters Blog.

On an average, 90 percent of U.S. cotton in 2010 was genetically engineered, according to a USDA survey.  However 95 to 98% of all cotton is now genetically engineered in nine of the eleven cotton producing states surveyed. (Source USDA Economic Research Service, July 1, 2011.)

The Huffington Post posted an excellent Blog with more information and commentary on the issue.

Our personal choice to support organic agriculture is crucial.

Cotton in Our Food Supply

Sixty five percent of conventional cotton production ends up in our food chain, directly through food oils or indirectly through the milk and meats of animals feeding on cotton seed meal and cotton gin by-products. The hazardous effect of conventional cotton in our food chain comes from GMO and Bt cotton by-products, which are generated from manufacturing non-food cotton products. These by-products are commonly known as “Gin Trash” which consists of cotton seed, stalk, leaves, burrs, twigs, dirt and everything else that are not used in cotton textile production.  The “Gin Trash” is sold to food companies to undergo further processing to create cotton seed oil, additional additives and fillers in processed foods for  livestock feed, and soil compost mix. Additionally, the waste from the processing goes directly into our water supply. Read more on Bt’s hazardous effects on mammals.

Most consumers are not aware of the following facts about cotton as it affects our food:

  • Although cotton is not a food, cotton seed oil is produced for human consumption
  • Cotton seed oil is used to produce vitamin E
  • Cotton Seed Oil is the primary ingredient in Crisco
  • Cottonseed meal is fed to animals for dairy and meat production
  • Leftover cotton cellulose fibers that are too short to be spun into textiles are used as food additives
  • Cellulose from cotton fibers is added to a wide range of foods to thicken and stabilize the products
  • Cellulose is used as a filler to extend serving sizes without increasing calories.  Humans can’t break down or digest cellulose so it’s being used to meet the demand for low-calorie, high-fiber foods
  • Cellulose, which is basically a plastic, has migrated into numerous foods including cheese, cream, milk powder, flavored milks, ice cream, sherbet, whey products, processed fruits, cooked vegetables, canned beans, pre-cooked pastas, pre-cooked rice products, vinegars, mustard, soups, cider, salads, yeast, seasonings, sweeteners, soybean products, bakery items, breakfast cereals, including rolled oats, sports drinks, and dietetic foods as a non-caloric filler
  • Some brands of pizza cheese consist of cellulose coated cheese granules combined with silicon to aid in melting

Read Labels Carefully To Know What You Are Buying!

When you shop for cotton clothing, socks, diapers, bedding, towels, mattresses etc. remember that “All Natural” cotton or “All Natural” fibers are not necessarily chemical-free or GMO free, because the processing of cotton textiles relies heavily on toxic and hazardous chemicals.  Traces of these chemicals can remain in fabrics after washing and these chemicals can cause an array of health problems.  “All natural” food and personal care products are not certified organic or GMO free unless they carry the USDA seal. Read labels carefully to be sure that you are buying the highest standards in food, personal care, and textile purity for the health of your family and the environment.

Your shopping choices make a difference!

Our personal choice to support organic agriculture is crucial. The first priority is to start with organic foods and then shop organic 100% of the time for everyday products. Organic regulation and standards follow strict guidelines in the farming process to protect our health and the world’s natural eco-system.  As consumers, we can set the example by choosing certified organic for our food, clothing, and other cotton textile needs. Our shopping choices affect the cotton industry by increasing grower and manufacturer demand for pure, safe, organic products. The next time you are shopping for clothing, bedding, or personal care products, choose wisely and shop certified organic exclusively for your family’s health and to protect the planet.

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About The Author

Melody Meyer's picture

Melody is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). In this role she is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical organic issues. Her Blog www.organicmattersblog.com covers a range of organic and sustainable food issues.

She is the executive director of the UNFI Foundation which is dedicated to funding non-profit organizations that promote organic agriculture  www.unfifoundation.org. Melody serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association www.ota.com.

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