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Cotton in Our Food

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More than 2.3 billion pounds of pesticides are used annually on U.S. crops. Pesticides are not only poisonous, but they harm the ecosystem by killing beneficial insects and microorganisms in the soil. Worldwide, cotton covers 2.5 percent of the cultivated land and uses 16 percent of the world's pesticides. Eight of the top 10 pesticides most commonly used on U.S. conventionally produced cotton were classified as moderately to highly hazardous by the World Health Organization.

Chemicals which are banned for use on food crops have been widely used on cotton. Aldicarb, cotton's second best selling pesticide and most acutely poisonous to humans and wildlife, can kill someone instantly with just one drop absorbed through the skin. Nonetheless, it is still used in 25 countries and in the U.S., where 16 states have reported it in their groundwater.

Cottonseed contains the natural toxin gossypol, which acts as a natural insecticide. However, gossypol poisoning is common and may be deadly for dairy cows and other livestock. Cotton is one of the top four GMO crops produced in the world (83 percent), along with soy (89 percent), canola (75 percent) and corn (61 percent). GMO cotton ranks ninth in global crop production. In 2010, an average of 90 percent of U.S. cotton was genetically engineered, according to a USDA survey. However 95-98 percent of all U.S. cotton is now genetically engineered in nine of the 11 cotton producing states surveyed.

Bt cotton was developed to reduce the use of pesticides by building pest resistant genes into the cotton plant, yet the global implications of genetically modified cotton for human, animal and environmental health have not been beneficial. In 2011, Pakistani farmers reported that Bt cottonseed cakes were harming their cattle. They cited lack of appetite, decline in milk production, infertility and sudden death of the animals due to unknown causes. The farmers also reported that the taste of the milk, yogurt, butter, and ghee became bitter. If Bt cottonseed was found to be harmful to animals, it is likely that food products from these animals would also be hazardous.    


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