While rummaging through the Cotton, Inc. web site (which is a fascinating and well done site), I quickly realized that the Great Cotton Debate is being recast. During the early growth of organic clothing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, organic cotton was recognized as the healthy choice – healthy for the individual, healthy for the environment, and healthy for workers growing and harvesting cotton. Conventional cotton relied upon heavy doses of toxic chemical herbicides and pesticides. We’ve all seen the statistics:
- Conventionally grown cotton accounts for 25% of all agricultural pesticides used in the U.S.
- 1/3 of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is used to grow each pound of cotton harvested which is the amount of cotton needed to manufacture one cotton t-shirt;
Unfortunately, the statistics often cited about chemical pesticide usage for conventionally grown cotton are now incorrect. They were derived from studies conducted in the 1990s such as the report from Allen Woodburn Associates, Ltd titled “Cotton: The Crop and its Agrochemicals Market” published in 1995. Since then, there has been a change in the playing field … or perhaps we should say in the cotton field.
Conventional cotton is being recast as the sustainable savior and organic cotton is being portrayed as the tiny niche bungler, the old and inadequate solution that is as out-dated as last year’s fashions. The organic cotton vs. conventional cotton debate is being reshaped by the conventional cotton industry through a series of Cotton Incorporated sponsored conferences on sustainable cotton and web articles trumpeting conventionally grown as “sustainable cotton”, “an important eco-fiber”, and a fiber that is “making the eco-movement matter” while promoting claims such as:
- Sustainability is defined “as balance between growing profitability, protecting the environment and promoting social responsibility”;
- “Technology is the driver behind more eco-friendly agriculture and manufacturing, finding alternative fuel sources and reducing the environmental footprint”;
- Biotechnology and the resulting genetically modified varieties of cotton are helping drive environmental improvements;
- Recent advances in cotton manufacturing have helped the “global textile industry be more cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly”;
- According to their three requirements for sustainability, conventional cotton production has become sustainable and conventional cotton now qualifies as sustainable cotton;
- Cotton grown by conventional agricultural methods is renewable, biodegradable and environmentally-friendly – all adding to their claims for sustainability;
- Conventionally grown cotton has become more drought- and heat-tolerant and requires less chemicals and pesticides;
- Environmentally-concerned consumers are more apt to buy conventionally-grown, sustainable cotton textiles over organic cotton because of the greater selections in styles and designs;
- Organic cotton will never be a viable option for large retailers such as the British department store chain Marks & Spenser because it “costs upwards of 100 percent more than conventionally grown cotton due to lower yields, a segregated supply chain and reliance on manual labor …”;
- "Organic" is a limited term that doesn't adequately address spent energy and resources across all phases of cotton growing, ginning, spinning and fabric manufacturing.
Conventionally grown cotton has undergone an amazing PR transformation from being the most heavily poisoned crop on the face of the earth to being proclaimed the new sustainable eco-fiber. There are several factors that have contributed to this astounding morphing:
- Improvements in general agricultural practices such as integrated pest management practices, no-till farming (reduced soil erosion and lower carbon emissions from farm tractors) and lateral move irrigation (improved irrigation efficiency resulting in lower water consumption). The integrated pest management practices are teaming up with improvements in pesticides (comprised of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) that allow for lower application levels and more targeted application. The improved pesticides are not necessarily less toxic or harmful to workers or the environment;
- Improvements in textile manufacturing facilities and processes to reduce toxic chemicals lost in waste waters and released into the environment;
- And the most important and ubiquitous factor is the rapidly increasing use of GMO cotton seed stock in U.S., Australia, India and China. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) estimates that in 2005 about 28% of the global cotton field acres were planted in transgenic GM cotton, according to “Cotton Outlook to 2010-11” by Drum, Roberts and Smirl. The USDA reports that 87% of the U.S. cotton crop was genetically engineered in 2007.
All three of these factors apply to other major conventionally grown crops such as corn and soybeans. But the self-proclaimed advances toward sustainability and environmental friendship in conventionally grown cotton are largely founded upon the conversion of conventional cotton to GMO cotton fields. We have reviewed the GMO cotton issues in our post Perspectives on GM Cotton.
Claims for conventional GMO cotton sustainability are based upon the generic three-cornered definition of sustainability: growing profitability, environmental protection, and social responsibility. Let’s look at these three self-proclaimed sustainability factors.
Growing profitability – the promise. Cotton yields – and therefore farmers’ income and profitability – are threatened by three major forces: insects, weeds, and weather. Bio-engineering companies, such as U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, have invested heavily in developing Bt cotton seeds, which have been genetically modified to contain a slice from the insecticidal gene Bacillius thuringiensis (Bt) to make it resistant to insect pests such as the bollworm. The theory being that when insect pests eat and digest the Bt cotton plant the Bacillius thurengiensis bacteria spliced into the genetically modified Bt cotton will cause a lethal paralysis in the digestive tract of the devouring insect.
Competition in weed-infested fields can reduce cotton yields by 50% or more. The biotechnology solution has been to genetically modify cotton to become resistant to herbicides so that weed killers can be liberally applied to cotton fields to kill the weeds without doing in the cotton. Monsanto developed herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton plants that would be tolerant to Monsanto’s widely used Roundup herbicide. Roundup contains the active ingredient glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide in the U.S. and widely used globally. The isopropylamine salt in glyphosate kills actively growing plants by inhibiting an enzyme involved in the synthesis of selected amino acids needed for plants to grow. Monsanto has genetically engineered genes into cotton seeds that allow the growing GMO cotton to be resistant to the Roundup that is applied to fields of cotton. The Roundup kills growing weeds but doesn’t affect the “Roundup Ready” GMO cotton.
While improvements in agricultural practices are helpful, a report by the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA reveals that many conventional cotton farmers in Brazil believe that the key to increased yields and therefore increased profitability is in large-scale plantings of GMO cotton. This promise has been sold to cotton farmers and producers across the globe. In Brazil where GMO cotton was recently legalized, cotton farmers converting to GMO Bt cotton seed and Roundup-ready cotton varieties are lead to expect cost savings of 15-30% due to reductions in manual labor costs and herbicide usage needed to control weeds.
Burkina Faso, the largest cotton producing country in Africa, has been conducting studies supported by the U.S. biotech giant Monsanto on GMO cotton since 2003 and plan to begin large scale commercial cotton growing in 2009. GMO cotton has already been introduced into South Africa and Egypt. Government leaders in Burkina Faso believe that they must use GMO cotton to achieve higher production efficiencies that will allow their poor cotton farmers to compete more effectively with developed countries such as the U.S. where cotton is subsidized by the U.S. government. This is the promise.
Growing profitability – the results. The economic benefits to cotton farmers of GMO cotton have been hotly debated. India passed legislation in 2002 opening the door for GMO cotton into India’s quickly blooming cotton agriculture. In 2007 an estimated 19% of the global cotton production came from India with per acre cotton yields and total number of acres in planted in GM cotton steadily increasing. Most cotton in India iis grown on small farms. A survey funded by Monsanto reported that Indian GMO Bt cotton farmers in 2004 harvested 58% more cotton per acre with net profits 163% greater than non-GMO conventionally grown cotton. Other biotech-industry funded studies proclaimed similar results in South Africa and the U.S.
A comprehensive study by Friends of the Earth International titled “Who Benefits from GM Crops?” attempts to examine the complex issues surrounding genetically modified crops and sort out cause and effect, fact and fiction, hype and actuality. Their primary findings were that the positive results from the studies most often cited by Monsanto funded studies were largely due to favorable weather and rain during the study period and improvements in irrigation. The Friends of the Earth study reported that GMO cotton farmers’ costs actually increased over time rather than decreased because GM seeds are more expensive than conventional cotton seeds and farmers actually used more expensive herbicides than they did previously while still requiring significant levels of insecticide spraying.
An extensive and independent survey, “Economic Impact of Genetically Modified Cotton in India” by Bennett, Ismael, Kambhampati and Morse of the University of Reading in the UK, compared Bt and non-Bt cotton production in the Indian state of Maharashtra across 7,751 cotton plots in 2002 and 1,580 cotton plots in 2003. The results indicated:
1. Bt cotton yields were at least 45% higher than for non-Bt cotton;
2. The amount and costs of insecticides needed to control aphids and other sap sucking insects pests were the same for Bt and non-Bt cotton fields;
3. The amount and costs of insecticides needed to control bollworms were 70% to 80% lower for Bt cotton fields than for non-Bt cotton fields;
4. The costs for conventional non-BT cotton seeds are only one third the price of Bt cotton seeds for planting and farmers are prohibited by the large chemical seeds companies such as Monsanto from saving seeds from their harvest for planning next year. Every year, cotton farmers must buy new, expensive Bt seeds from the GM seed companies;
5. The costs of seeds plus the cost of insecticides is slightly higher for Bt cotton crops compared with non-Bt cotton crops. Higher yields for Bt cotton enable Bt cotton to be more profitable.
While the Bennett, et al. study is comprehensive with a well designed methodology and lacking any apparent bias, it is also significant in what isn’t in the study. The study did not compare Bt cotton costs with organically grown cotton nor did it consider the costs of conventional non-Bt cotton when the farmers use their own seed harvested from their previous crop. The study also did not address environmental costs or field worker health costs from herbicide and insecticide toxic chemical sprays. Issues of GMO safety and long-term considerations were also not part of the study. The study examined only economic effects of Bt cotton and did not examine issues of herbicide-tolerant (HT) generically modified cotton. Herbicide-tolerant cotton has been genetically modified to resist weed sprays, specifically Monsanto’s costly Roundup weed killer. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton plants allow farmers to liberally use Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed spray to kill weeds sprouting up in cotton fields. Strains of weeds are developing which are resistant to Roundup. Also, the study only looks are results for the first two years of commercial planting of Bt cotton in one state in India. A longer, multi-year study is necessary to evaluate longer term effects.
As a note concerning insecticide usage on Bt cotton, three different categories of insects plague cotton – chewing caterpillars and cutworms which eat leaves and stems of the cotton plant; insects such as bollworms and boll weevils which attack and feed on the fluffy white cotton bolls; and sucking aphids and mites which pierce the cotton plant leaves and stems to suck the sap from the plant. The types and severity of cotton insect pests varies from local to global regions. Bt cotton with its genetically implanted soil bacterium gene is resistant to bollworms, a major cotton pest in the U.S., but not to the other insects which feast upon cotton plants and cotton bolls. Depending upon the region, Bt cotton must still be sprayed with insecticides to control for the other categories of insects. The resistance of Bt cotton to bollworms is not total, however, and Bt cotton still requires spraying with insecticides but at a much lower level of application to control for bollworms.
Another evolving concern affecting long-term profitability of GM cotton is that Nature is adaptive and over time bollworms and other insects will develop insect strains that are resistant to the toxins in Bt cotton. An extensive study by Gould, et al. of the Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reported that within a few years varieties of bollworms were being naturally selected that have a resistance to the Bt toxins. With farmers exercising careful pest management techniques, the period of naturally selective resistance could be delayed for a few more years but insects developing Bt resistant strains are inevitable. The more effective pest management techniques involved planting 4% of their cotton crop in non-Bt refuge zones to harbor susceptible insects and slow down the evolution of pests resistant to the Bt gene.
Protecting the environment – the promise. The second pillar of the conventionally grown cotton industry’s claim to sustainability is in their assertion to protecting environmental quality. The premise of the promise for improved environmental stewardship by the conventional cotton industry is in attempting to transform their image from being a toxic chemical polluter to sustainability by reducing and improving their environmental impact in the cotton field and in the manufacturing factory.
In the cotton field, growers are encouraged to implement soil conservation techniques such as no-till farming and improved irrigation to reduce soil erosion and integrated pest management techniques to better control insect pest. Most of these farming techniques are also practiced by organic cotton farmers. Cotton farmers in the U.S. and globally are being heavily pressured to plant GM cotton seeds from the large chemical biotech companies such as Monsanto. The promise is that Bt cotton will require lower levels of costly and environmentally harmful insecticides.
Protecting the environment – the results. A short history of the genealogy of pesticide families will help to understand the issues of sustainability swirling around cotton. Pesticides refer collectively to chemical herbicides used against herbs or plants considered weed pests, insecticides used against insect pests, and fungicides used against fungi which can grow on cotton plants reducing their vitality and yield. Pesticides are a cornerstone of conventional cotton agriculture which credits pesticides with reducing cotton pests and increasing cotton yields, but the damage to the health of the environment, wildlife, field workers, and nearby communities has been considerable and well documented. In a report “Problems with Conventional Cotton Production” the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) warns that “these pesticides can poison farm workers, drift into neighboring communities, contaminate ground and surface water and kill beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms.”
Because of environmental protection regulations in the U.S. and countries around the world, new classes of chemical pesticides are continually being developed which are applied at lower rates of active ingredients per acre of cotton grown. These newer classes of chemical pesticides still contain toxic and hazardous chemicals but the environmental and health impacts have been reduced. A meaningful interpretation of any global reductions in pesticide usage over time is difficult because of vast differences in geographies, climates, agricultural practices, cultures, the changing active ingredients in pesticides, and the ever-changing nature of threats from local pest. A study title “Global Impact of Biotech Crops: Socio-Economic and Environmental Effects in the First Ten Years of Commercial Use” by Brookes and Barfoot of PG Economics Ltd (a private consultancy largely funded by the biotech industry) estimated that GM insect-resistant cotton has reduced insecticide usage by 19.4% with a corresponding Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) reduction of 24.3% during the period of 1996 to 2005. The Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) was developed by Kovach, Petzoldt, Degni and Tette of the Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University. The EIQ provides a standardized method for calculating the environmental impact for various agricultural pesticides and pest management systems.
A study title “Do GM Crops Mean Less Pesticide Use?” by Charles Benbrook of the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center analyzed official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data on GM crops grown in the U.S. from 1995 through 2000 and concluded that “Bt cotton has reduced insecticide use in several states.” Benbrook points out the difficulties in identifying cause-effect relationships in multi-year multi-state cotton insecticide use trends. Bollworm-budworm complex insecticide usage in some states went down and in other states went up. The data suggests that Bt cotton was a significant factor in declines in some states but not in others. In some states with high Bt cotton adoption, insecticide usage actually increased, and some low-adoption Bt cotton states saw a marked reduction in bollworm-budworm insecticide treatments.
Benbrook states that the data overall indicates that GM cotton reduces insecticide applications but that bio-engineering is only one factor and that sustainable pest management requires a total system approach. An important consideration in a sustainable pest management system is in ways to reduce the concentration and use of pesticides – applied externally in sprays and also bio-engineered into the genes of cotton plants – to delay the rise of pesticide resistance in insects and weeds.
Besides environmental protection regulations from governments, another motivating factor for chemical pesticide manufacturers to develop new classes of pesticides is because natural selection begins to develop strains of insects and weeds resistant to the popular pesticides du jour. Resistance to specific pesticides is governed by many factors but typically tends to develop within four to ten years depending upon the degree to which the pesticide is used. Generally, the more a pesticide is used in an area, the more quickly resistant strains of insects will begin developing. A central focus of integrated pest management systems is to delay the rise of pesticide resistant insects and weeds.
The study by Brookes and Barfoot also suggests that GM cotton reduces the level of green house gas (GHG) emissions by requiring fewer pesticide sprayings by crop dusting spray airplanes or tractors and soil tillage that use fuel guzzling farm tractors with their supporting fleet of trucks to deliver pesticides and operators to the fields. They also report that “no-till and reduced-till farming systems that utilize less plowing increase the amount of organic carbon (in the form of crop residue) that is stored or sequestered in the soil. This carbon sequestration reduces carbon dioxide emissions to the environment.” Of course, no-till farming practices are not unique to GM crops and havelong been a component of organic farming.
Conventional cotton (including GM cotton) plants are sprayed with a variety of harvest-aid chemicals to help improve cotton harvesting yields, preserve high fiber quality before cotton bolls can become ruined by late-season insect damage, and to improve cotton harvest efficiencies. Conventional cotton harvest-aid chemicals include chemical defoliants which cause the cotton plants to shed their foliage allowing the cotton bolls to be more effectively machine harvested. Chemical defoliants are composed of reactive organic compounds and volatiles which lead to increased air pollution and have an adverse environmental impact. The organic cotton and the conventional cotton industries are researching environmentally healthy defoliation methods such as thermal defoliation which “eliminates water and air pollution caused by harvest-aid chemicals, reduces the need for insecticides, protects the crop from insect sugar deposits and is independent of the weather.” A hot blast of typically propane-fired air in what is essentially a moving furnace wilts tender leaves on cotton plants and also kills insects, parasites and possibly some plant diseases.
Depending upon weather, time-of-year, and cotton plant condition, the conventional cotton industry uses a variety of harvest-aid chemicals to prepare cotton for harvesting. The University of California Integrated Pest Management Program has categorized and detailed the wide range of harvest-aid chemicals that are sprayed on cotton fields to:
- Defoliate cotton plants by using chemicals that disrupt plant growth hormones causing leaves to die and drop so that automated machines can pick the cotton bolls more easily;
- More quickly strip leaves from plants by using chemical desiccants which are more severe than defoliants and cause leaf dehydration and death within a couple days. Desiccants are often applied as a follow-up after application of defoliants;
- Encourage late blooming cotton bolls to open earlier so that cotton harvesters can make only one pass over cotton fields. It has also been found that these chemicals can also reduce vegetative re-growth;
- Inhibit new growth on cotton plants nearing harvest or to help enhance the effects of defoliants
Many of the harvest-aid chemicals are listed in the Pesticide Action Network as being possible carcinogens, ground water contaminants, cholinesterase inhibitors, and moderately to highly toxic. Harvest-aid chemicals are included in computations of conventional cotton pesticide usage.
Does GM and conventionally grown cotton improve the environment? The studies indicate that it hurts the environment less than it did a decade ago but to what degree is difficult to quantify. The Institute of Science in Society published a press release in 2007 “Picking Cotton Carefully” which declared that “conventional and GM cotton accounts for 16 percent of global chemical pesticide use, more than any other single crop.” Considering the rising degree to which rivers, streams and ground water systems are testing positive for toxic chemicals used in cotton pesticides, it is very difficult to justify how conventional cotton agriculture could be considered sustainable. Improved farming techniques – many of which have also been incorporated in organic agriculture – have also reduced farming’s environmental impact. And then there is the unknown impact of biotechnology and genetic modification on the environment and the health and safety of people.
Promoting Social Responsibility – the promise. The textile and garment industries have long been plagued by unethical labor practices from child labor in fields and factories and sweatshop factories to unfair and exploitive purchasing of clothing and textiles produced by native and indigenous peoples. Change will only occur when consumers, manufacturers, retailers and governments demand fair and healthy labor practices.
Another aspect of social responsibility is in maintaining community welfare and health by respecting the environment and not polluting the air, water and land that communities depend upon, and also by insuring the health of the community members who work the fields and factories.
Promoting Social Responsibility – the results. When these abuses are exposed in the media, the garment industry in general and specifically the large retailers buying from sweatshop-tainted manufacturers are displayed in a very bad light. In an attempt to convince consumers and shareholders that they are really good global citizens, most large clothing manufacturers and retailers have adopted Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) statements to explain how they will monitor for and avoid abusive labor practices among their suppliers and manufacturers … while still maintaining high investor returns. Our post “The Fog of CSR” has gone into these issues.
The result has been that clothing manufacturers and large chain retailers have become much for sensitive and responsive to charges of sweatshops and child labor. Many have teamed with independent and ethical organizations to help monitor and reduce abuses and there have been improvements. Large retailers, such as Wal-Mart in the U.S. and Marks & Spencer in the U.K., are encouraging farmers in developing countries to adopt restrictions in child-labor and reduce pesticide usage. Large corporations are beginning to realize that greening their product lines and reducing their corporate environmental footprint is good business and helps to reduce their costs and improve operating efficiencies.
Fair trade is another concern of the ethical shopper (see our post “Ethical Shopping and Fair Trade”). Independent non-profit organizations such as the Fairtrade Foundation offer fair trade certification so shoppers can have confidence that marginalized producers and workers in developing countries received a fair and sustainable wage for their products and labors.
Almost all organic clothing standards such as Control Union’s Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) identify minimum social criteria that a textile must meet as part of the overall requirements to achieve organic textile certification. These include freely chosen employment, collective bargaining, safe and healthy working conditions, no child labor, a fair wage, reasonable working hours, and a non-discriminatory and non-abusive work environment. Note that these ethical social standards apply to textile manufacturing and processing and not to the fields that grow the natural fibers.
The Better Cotton Initiative was founded to take it to the field and “promote measurable improvements in the key environmental and social impacts of cotton cultivation worldwide to make it more sustainable (economically, environmentally, and socially).” Social responsibility must also include safeguarding the community welfare from toxic pesticides that threaten community water supplies and the health of workers and families that live near sprayed crop lands. Reducing and eliminating pesticides on crops is an important component of a social responsibility agenda.
So how does conventional cotton shape up to the social responsibility factor in their sustainability equation? Improving but still a long way to go. Textile manufacturers and retailers seem to be trying to improve working conditions in manufacturing and garment factories but they face an inherent conflict of interest between the increased costs necessary to improve social responsibility and the need to improve profits by lowering costs. Consumer pressure will be key in the future.
Considering community welfare, as long as toxic pesticides are sprayed on cotton fields there will be community health problems which detract from any claims of sustainability.
Final score on conventional cotton sustainability. With improved soil and pest management agricultural practices and some improvements in reducing the chemical toxicity of pesticides, conventionally grown cotton has improved but still hasn’t achieved any common definition of sustainability addressing trade, good environmental stewardship, and social responsibility.
A thorough and comprehensive study in 2006 by Kooistra, Termorshuizen and Pyburn of Wageningen University titled “The Sustainability of Cotton” reported that cotton is grown globally on about 2.4% of the world’s farm lands but consumes an estimated 11% of the agricultural chemical pesticides. Cotton plants are more sensitive to insects than most other crops and tend to be more heavily sprayed. Many developing countries which grow cotton do not monitor or poorly regulate pesticide use and many of their pesticides are stronger and more toxic than pesticides approved for use in the U.S.
Kooistra et al. report that “worldwide 15% of cotton yield loss is due to insect damage”. Integrated Pest Management programs can contribute to significant reductions and perhaps elimination of hazardous chemical pesticides. Pressure will also increase on cotton farmers to fight the insect and weed threats by planting GM cotton.
Conventionally grown cotton is still one of the most chemically sprayed crops in the U.S. In May 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report “Agricultural Chemical Usage 2005 Field Crops Summary” for the major U.S. crops. For all U.S. corn crops, 2.124 pounds of pesticides were used per acre; for all oats, 0.166 pounds pesticides per acre; for all soybeans, 1.23 pounds of pesticides per acre; for cotton (upland), 4.486 pounds of pesticides per acre of cotton. An acre of conventionally grown cotton requires more than twice the dosage of chemical pesticides as corn, the next highest consumer of chemical pesticides. It’s interesting to note that in 2005, almost 80% of the U.S. cotton crop was from genetically engineered cotton seeds. In 2007, the USDA estimated that 87% of the U.S. cotton crop was genetically modified. In some locals, herbicide-resistant GM cotton actually increased herbicide usage. Where previously, cotton farmers used spot spraying to attack localized outbreaks of weeds, they now sprayed the entire field because there wasn’t the concern about affecting the cotton plants with the herbicide and it was more cost-effective.
Using the USDA statistics from 2005, we calculate that 0.0947 oz of pesticides is used to grow one pound of conventionally grown U.S. cotton. When 2005 synthetic fertilizer usage (nitrogen, phosphate, potash and sulfur) is included in the calculation then the combined synthetic fertilizer and pesticide usage is 2.85 ounces per pound of conventionally grown cotton, and is considerably less than the 5 ounces reported in the late 1990s. This is in keeping with the 0.08637 ounces calculated by Coral Rose of Eco-Innovations and published in her Sustainable Action Leadership blog and the pesticide usage per pound of cotton reported in the Cotton Incorporated site.
Conventionally grown cotton will need to improve its environmental impact through improved pest management and will need to reduce and eventually eliminate hazardous chemical pesticide usage before it can approach sustainability. Hazardous chemical pesticide usage is not sustainable.
And then there is also the little issue of bio-engineered, genetically modified cotton. The Global Organic Textiles Standard prohibits “genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) and their derivatives (including enzymes derived from genetically modified micro-organisms).” The SKAL International Standards for Sustainable Textile Production states that all agricultural fibers have to “originate from an organic production method that is recognized by Control Union Certifications” and all organic production methods exclude genetically modified plants.
When you hear claims of "sustainable" always look upon the cotton kimono to see what it really means.