Cotton and the Environment
Acreage estimates for the 2001 U.S. cotton crop show approximately 11,459 acres of certified organic and transitional cotton were planted in the United States. Internationally, Turkey and the United States are the largest organic cotton producers.
Demand is being driven by apparel and textile companies that are expanding their 100% organic cotton program and developing programs that blend small percentages of organic cotton with their conventional cotton products.
Here are some reasons why organic cotton production is important to the long-term health of the planet.
- Cotton uses approximately 25% of the world’s insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants.). (Allan Woodburn)
- Approximately 10% of all pesticides sold for use in U. S. agriculture were applied to cotton in 1997, the most recent year for which such data is publicly available. (ACPA)
- Eighty-four million pounds of pesticides were sprayed on the 14.4 million acres of conventional cotton grown in the U.S. in 2000 (5.85 pounds/ acre), ranking cotton second behind corn in total amount of pesticides sprayed. (USDA)
- Over 2.03 billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers were applied to conventional cotton the same year (142 pounds/acre), making cotton the fourth most heavily fertilized crop behind corn, winter wheat, and soybeans. (USDA)
- The Environmental Protection Agency considers seven of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton in 2000 in the United States as “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known” human carcinogens (acephate, dichloropropene, diuron, fluometuron, pendimethalin, tribufos, and trifluralin). (EPA)
- In 1999, a work crew re-entered a cotton field about five hours after it was treated with tribufos and sodium chlorate (re-entry should have been prohibited for 24 hours). Seven workers subsequently sought medical treatment and five have had ongoing health problems. (California DPR)
- It takes roughly one-third of a pound of chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers) to grow enough cotton for just one T-shirt. (SCP)
Allen Woodburn Associates Ltd./Managing Resources Ltd., “Cotton: The Crop and its Agrochemicals Market,” 1995.
American Crop Protection Association, “1997 Total U. S. Sales by Crop Protection Product Type and Market,” 1998 ACPA Industry Profile.California Department of Pesticide Regulation, “DPR Releases Data on 1999 Pesticide Injuries,” 2001.
Sustainable Cotton Project, “Cleaner Cotton Campaign Tool Kit,” Oroville, CA.
U. S. Department of Agriculture, “Agricultural Chemical Usage: 2000 Field Crop Summary,” 2001.
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, “List of Chemicals Evaluated for Carcinogenic Potential,” 2001.
The Organic Trade Association is the leading business association representing the organic industry in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its more than 1200 members include growers, processors, shippers, retailers, certification organizations and others involved in the business of producing and selling certified organic products.
© 2001, Organic Trade Association. May 2005