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Why Organic? Part I

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We are very excited that Lazlo supports farmers who are choosing sustainable methods of cotton production.

Our organic Heirloom Tees come with the assurance that no one in the supply chain, from the people growing and processing the cotton to the consumers wearing the finished garment, will be exposed to toxins.

The average shirt has a much different narrative. To grow enough cotton for one t-shirt, farmers use approximately a third of a pound of chemicals. Many of these chemicals are insecticides, since more insecticides are applied to cotton than to any other crop.

Pesticides are designed to control pest species—but it turns out that they aren’t very discriminating. According to the WHO, 20,000 people die each year from the chemicals sprayed by hand on cotton fields in developing countries. Other health consequences reported by UNEP include brain cancer, abortions, birth defects, leukemia and decreased intelligence. Aldicarb is one pesticide commonly used on cotton. How much Aldicarb does it take to kill an adult? Just one drop absorbed through the skin.

In developing countries, where the majority of cotton production takes place, safety regulations are lax and protective equipment can be hard to come by. The Environmental Justice Foundation observed in its report “The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton” that even water for washing up and washing equipment can be scarce. Because pesticides are expensive, they are often stored in farmers’ bedrooms. Poor labeling and illiteracy can prove an especially fatal combination, playing out in unanticipated ways; for example, in villages in West Africa, empty pesticide containers were used as drinking vessels.

Why are such high volumes of pesticides being used on conventionally grown cotton? Vandana Shiva has been at the forefront of raising awareness about GMOs, which are banned under organic certification. She explains that patented GM crops must be grown as a monoculture, which leaves crops more vulnerable to pests, drought and disease. Over time, the pests that GM crops have been engineered to repel evolve into resistant strains, and then even more pesticides must be applied. 

A May 2014 article in The Guardian investigated the GM seeds flooding the market in Maharashtra, India. The GM hybrids are 4x more expensive than traditional varieties and because they are sterile, they must be purchased every year. The GM cotton also requires irrigation, but 80% of the fields in Maharashtra rely on rainfall. When their crops fail, farmers are finding themselves in unmanageable debt. To date, more than 270,000 cotton farmers in India have committed suicide. 

There is a better way.

To be continued in Why Organic Cotton, Part 2.