Dirty Cotton: Why Conventional Cotton is Bad for the Planet and for People


Conventional cotton is an issue that’s really close to my heart, so when I read the latest battle between big ag and Indian farmers, I thought I’d share it here.

Conventional – aka non-organic – cotton is full of problems. It takes tons of toxic pesticides to grow which pollute waterways and harm workers. It’s water-intensive. It’s usually genetically modified. But the thing that gets me the most about conventional cotton isn’t any of that. It’s that conventional cotton is basically soaked in blood.

Bayer produces genetically modified cotton seeds – called Bt Cotton – with built in pesticides and sold these seeds to Indian farmers with the promise of better yields with fewer inputs. The problem? The seeds didn’t deliver, and now farmers are deeply in debt. According to a Guardian report:

Since the introduction of GM cotton in 2002, harvests in India have doubled and the country ranks as the world’s second-largest producer. But the “white revolution” prompts distrust. Opponents of GM crops claim the increased yields of the early 2000s were due to better irrigation and favourable weather. Over the past six years average yields per hectare have barely changed, despite a fourfold increase in the use of GM cotton.

The debt situation among cotton farmers – a situation directly related to conventional cotton seeds – is why back in 2006 farmers committed suicide because they saw no other way out.

The other trouble with prevalent use of GM seeds is that it’s going to be very hard to go back to planting heirloom varieties of cotton. These seeds – which evolved over thousands of years to grow in India – are becoming extinct because farmers stopped planting them.

Ten years after the introduction of GM cotton, local seed varieties have virtually disappeared. The GM-seed market, launched with a massive advertising campaign, is now worth an estimated $364m.

The Indian government is asking that Bayer pay farmers over $1 million in compensation for cotton seeds that didn’t live up to their promises. The cotton harvest last year was down by 1/2 from the previous year, but Bayer is refusing to pony up. I guess it’s easy to make promises when you don’t intend to follow through?

Don’t want to opt in to the dirty conventional cotton market? Choose organic cotton, organic hemp, or vintage clothing instead! Check out our fashion section for lots of clothing makers who are using organic and vintage materials instead of conventional cotton.

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by paulscott56

A version of this article originally appeared at Crafting a Green World

Written by Becky Striepe

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .

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