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Care What You Wear

For the Agrichemical Industry, Organic Cotton is a Pest

Like the food you eat, the clothes on your back come from somewhere. If you wear cotton, that "somewhere" is ultimately a farm (with detours at a textile mill, a clothes factory, etc).

Growing vast monocrops of cotton, it turns out, is a dirty business. Globally, cotton occupies 2.4 percent of cropland -- and burns through 16 percent of the insecticides used every year, the Environmental Justice Foundation reports.

Indeed, conventional cotton production in the United States has long required a veritable monsoon of poisons. Cotton can even give even industrial corn a run for its money in terms of environmental impact. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, pesticide applications for cotton run "3 to 5 times greater per hectare than applications of pesticides to corn."

To try and stem the chemical cascade, farmers in cotton country have largely switched to seeds genetically modified to contain a pesticide and to withstand Roundup, Monsanto's broad-based herbicide. Today, upwards of 60 percent of cotton grown in the U.S. contains those traits.

Trouble is, that "solution" to cotton's chemical dependence is already failing. In cotton country, Roundup-resistant "superweeds" are a large and growing problem, forcing farmers to employ a toxic cocktail of herbicides to control weeds. And now, Monsanto recently revealed, a strain of cotton bollworms has developed resistance to the company's widely planted pesticide-carrying cotton strain. Who knows what new poison concoctions will be needed to exterminate these "superbugs"?