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Fact Sheet on U.S. Cotton Subsidies and Cotton Production

Cotton Subsidies and Cotton Problems
By Will Allen, Policy Board Member of the Organic Consumers Association Feb. 2004

* Cotton is grown in 85 countries and exported by 55.
* China is the largest producer of cotton but uses most of its production at home.
* The US is the second largest cotton producer and by far the largest exporter in the world and regularly ships 40 to 60% of its yield abroad.
* As the largest exporter, the US currently accounts for more than 50% of the world¹s exported cotton.
* From 1995 to 2001, 78% of the US subsidies for cotton went to only 10% of the cotton farmers‹about 2000 farmers.
* Before NAFTA and GATT were passed US spinning mills consumed 12 million bales of cotton and the US shipped out about 6 or 7 million. Currently, domestic mill use is closer to 7 million bales, but US growers continue to produce about the same amount of cotton. Consequently, the US now exports 5 million more bales of subsidized cotton than it did before NAFTA.
* More than 11 million of bales (480lbs. per bale) of US cotton per year were dumped on the world market from 1995 to 2003 at rock bottom prices. The price of cotton dropped to 48 cents in 1997 and bottomed out at 28 cents in 2000. Until 2003 the price continued to sell in the 48 cent range. At 48 cents a pound, cotton was being sold at about 30 cents less than the average cost to grow it and 40 cents less than the average of what US farmers received for it at the cotton gin.
* In India, low prices for cotton and high prices for chemicals have caused tens of thousands of farmers to go bankrupt. As a result, there have been more than 20,000 cotton farmer suicides since 1995. Additional thousands of Indian farmers sold their kidneys into the world organ market to pay their pesticide and fertilizer bill to Monsanto, Cargill or multinational banks.
* In Africa more than ten million people directly depend on cotton exports for their livelihood. Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso have lost twice as much on the drop in cotton prices as they received in US foreign aid. This has driven more than 4% of each country¹s population into abject poverty and prompted a common African lament which goes: The more we produce The more we export The poorer we get!
* More than a million Mexican farmers lost their land since the passage of NAFTA and the subsequent dumping of surplus US corn, cotton, wheat and other crops The dumping of subsidized crops (especially corn and cotton) into the Mexican markets drove prices below the cost of production. Small farmers could not compete and were driven out of business and off the land.
* In 1946 the average size of the US cotton farm was 17 acres and there were more than a million cotton farmers. Today, cotton farms average over 1,000 acres. Before NAFTA there were 40,000 cotton farms, today, there are only 20,000 left.
* Only 36% of the US farmers receive all of the crop subsidies. 64% of US farmers receive none. Only 3.6% of the US farmers received 71% of all the government payments. The next 3.6% got 15%, which means that 7.2% of the farms received 86% of all the US subsidy payments.
* Besides being highly subsidized, cotton is the most toxic crop in the world. Cotton uses more than twenty-five percent of all the insecticides in the world and 12% of all the pesticides. Cotton growers use 25% of all the pesticides used in the US. Yet cotton is farmed on only 3% of the world¹s farmland.
* California is one of the only states where farmers are required to provide pesticide use reports. The California EPA reported that only15 chemicals accounted for 77% of the pesticides used on cotton from 1989 to 1998 and that these were some of the most toxic chemicals in the world. Cal EPA and US EPA analyses illustrate that seven of these fifteen most used cotton chemicals were probable cancer-causing pesticides, eight caused tumors and five caused mutations. Twelve of the top fifteen cotton pesticides in California caused birth defects, ten caused multiple birth defects, and thirteen were toxic or very toxic to fish or birds or both.
* On the average, seven times as many pounds of toxic fertilizer are regularly used on cotton as are pesticides. Cotton fertilizers have fouled the air and polluted rivers, groundwater basins and aquifers wherever cotton is grown.
* Cotton fertilizers and pesticides have killed and injured millions of fish, birds, and other wildlife as well as countless thousands of rural residents.
* 75% of the cotton and cottonseed in the US is genetically modified.
* In the US we eat or drink more cotton products than we sleep on, wash with, or wear.
* Cottonseed accounts for about 60% of the harvest tonnage, gin trash (leaves, fibers and twigs) 5% to 20%, and cotton fiber only 30 to 35%.
* About 80% of all the cottonseed and almost all the gin trash go right into our milk. The other 20% of the cottonseed is made into oil, meal and cake and winds up in many different junk foods. An average of eight pounds of cottonseed is fed out to most dairy cows in the US every day. Large amounts of gin trash are fed out or used for bedding for dairy cows and beef cows.
* In addition to GMO cotton seed and gin trash, the cows are also fed GMO corn and soybeans. Many are also shot up with genetically modified bovine growth hormones. This makes milk one of the most toxically produced and genetically modified products. Since kids drink the bulk of the milk in the US, kids get the most poison as well the most exposure to genetically modified bacteria, viruses, hormones and antibodies.
* Subsidies must end to millionaire and billionaire farmers who are obviously poisoning the land, poisoning consumers and bankrupting small farmers and rural communities in the US and around the world. Subsidies for the mega rich corporate farmers should be immediately put on a fast track to sunset.
* The current subsidies to the corporate rich should be redirected to existing water quality, pest control, and fertility management programs that have been enacted by Congress but which are currently under-funded.
* Bale tax money (about $2.10 per bale), which funds both the Cotton Council and Cotton Incorporated, should be redirected to local infrastructure development in cotton growing communities, a retooling of our domestic garment industry, and value added programs for cotton farmers and cooperatives.