US Ranks 6th in Organic Cotton Production

June 25, 2013

Take a look at the statistics some time for organic cotton and you’ll see that the United States, one of the largest countries in the world both area and population-wise, ranks only sixth in organic cotton production, and that’s a distant sixth. Ahead of us are India, Turkey, Syria, Tanzania, and China. Of the 625,000 acres utilized worldwide to grow organic cotton, only 12,000 of them are located in the United States. That’s less than 2% of the total, yet somehow we account for $512 million of the $4.2 Billion (12%) in organic cotton sales every year. That’s a lot of imported shirts coming in.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re all for global markets and many of these organic cotton farmers are part of the free trade movement, something we wholeheartedly support, but the disparity in production versus consumption numbers on organic cotton is outrageous. Why is the United States lagging so far behind? The main reason is cost. It’s cheaper to buy imported cotton than it is to buy domestic. This goes for organic cotton and inorganic cotton grown with pesticides. Both are produced mainly in countries where labor forces, often made up children, work for less. US consumers inadvertently contribute to these situations when they buy imported cotton.

Uzbekistan and the Aral Sea

Cotton is one of the world’s thirstiest crops. It requires six pints of water to produce a single cotton bud. In the small country of Uzbekistan, the world’s third largest exporter of inorganic cotton, the demand for water has left the Aral Sea nearly drained dry. Worse yet, the pesticides used by the cotton crops are now an even greater hazard to the general population because they are present in the newly exposed bottom and banks of the sea. These same pesticides are responsible for twenty thousand deaths a year worldwide. One of them, Aldicarb, has been used as a toxic nerve agent in chemical weapons. A single teaspoonful of Aldicarb on the skin is sufficient to kill an adult.

West Africa and Child Labor in the Cotton Fields

Tanzania may be the worlds 4th largest producer of organic cotton, but the countries on the other side of the continent are exporting the most inorganic cotton. Nearly 40% of their total exports are cotton crops, and that number is increasing every year. United States and European subsidies to their own cotton growers are causing the undeveloped countries on the Atlantic coast of Africa to cut their costs, leading to poor quality of life in some areas, abject poverty in others. The death toll and instances of pesticide poisoning are nearly impossible to accurately document, but they are believed to be the highest in the world, so high that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has proposed the elimination of subsidies and is pushing for pure free trade.

What can we do to help?

The United States needs to grow more organic cotton to protect our water and soil. We also need to read labels when we shop. Inorganic cotton farming and pesticides are killing children all around the world. By buying them we are contributing to that tragedy. Take a look at the picture at the top of this page. That’s what the Aral Sea looks like today. Imagine living nearby. Close you eyes and picture that scenario on one of the Great Lakes. It may seem far-fetched, but it could happen. Think about it.

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