Organic Cotton and Conventional Cotton

Aldicarb: a highly toxic insecticide used in cotton production capable of killing a grown man with just one drop absorbed through the skin. But don’t worry, it’s only the second best selling insecticide used on conventionally grown cotton crops (Organic Trade Association, 2011). The bad news is that parathion and methamidopho, known for being extremely hazardous to human health, are also among the top ranking insecticides used in cotton production (Organic Trade Association, 2011). So not only are these chemicals extremely dangerous but they are also quite prevalent. According to the Organic Trade Association (2011), “cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides”. That’s more than any other single major crop!

Even if you never come into direct contact with these insecticides there is still much cause for concern. Chemicals like Aldicarb are what are known as ‘persistent’ because they do not easily break-down in the environment (American Bird Conservancy, 2010). This means that they stay in the soil, air, and/or water for lengthy periods of time. As a result, they can accumulate in humans and animals to the point where they might cause serious health problems (Commission for Environmental Cooperation). Here’s a hypothetical example of how this could happen:

  • a farmer sprays his or her cotton crop with Aldicarb to control for pests;
  • the chemical run-off gets absorbed into the soil and finds its way into the ground water;
  • the fish in the near by lakes and rivers are exposed to the run-off which then gets absorbed into their fatty tissue;
  • fishermen catch the contaminated fish and sell it to a grocery store near you.

The goal of this article is not to put you off of your appetite but to raise awareness on the importance of choosing organic cotton. Organic agriculture avoids the use of synthetic insecticides and pesticides. Therefore, by supporting the organic cotton industry you are also supporting a healthier planet with healthier people. Prior to the 20th century, all agricultural crops (including cotton) were cultivated without the use of dangerous chemicals. However, a growing demand for higher yields and perfect looking crops led to the wide-spread use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. But is the desire for perfection really more important than our health and happiness? As for higher yields, there is some research to suggest that pests eventually build a resistance to synthetic insecticides after repeated exposure (People Tree). Therefore, this method of agriculture really isn’t sustainable in the long run.