It’s the cash crop enslaved Africans in America were forced to pick, as close as family and probably what you’re wearing right now. Yet much like our food there’s so much most of us don’t know about the fabric of our lives. Here’s 5 things need to know about cotton.
What is cotton?
Cotton comes from a plant. The soft usually white fibrous substance spun into yarns to make fabric are the hairs surrounding the seeds of various erect freely branching tropical plants (genus Gossypium) of the mallow family.
Who likes cotton? Everyone!
Cotton was first domesticated over 5,000 years ago in Asia, Africa and South America. Cotton farmers will also tell you cotton has a lot of fans in the animal world though they would likely refer to them as “enemies” or “attackers” of cotton or “pests”. Cotton is the favorite food of many far beyond the famed boll weevil such as “pink bollworm, cotton leafworm, cotton fleahopper, cotton aphid, rapid plant bug, conchuela, southern green stinkbug, spider mites (red spiders), grasshoppers, thrips, and tarnished plant bugs.” This isn’t including fungi, weeds and other plant diseases.
Cotton Is The “Dirtiest” Crop In The World
Cotton is considered the “dirtiest” crop in the world due to the heavy usage of insecticides on it. “Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop.” Insecticides are the most hazardous pesticide and cotton is treated with Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidopho, 3 of the most acutely hazardous insecticides to humans as determined by the World Health Organization. Aldicarb is the most dangerous of these and is still used in the United States. These chemicals seep into our groundwater and 16 states so far have reported such cases. Let’s not forget about herbicides for weeds.
Cotton Is Also Genetically Modified
A lot of the food we eat has been genetically modified but in the Unites States these foods are not required by law to be labeled. This is also the case for your clothes. By 2007 genetically modified cotton already commanded 34% of total cotton cropland and 45% of world cotton production. This cotton comes from seeds that are genetically engineered with a similar process to that of corn and other food staples. The genes are spliced with the genes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis and so it is referred to as Bt Cotton.
Cotton. It’s What’s For Dinner.
“Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner” was an American ad slogan to encourage people to eat beef. In the eye opening Big Cotton: How A Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Mapit states cottonseed meal is fed to dairy cows and the sleep on pesticide-laden cotton gin waste, which they poop on it and routinely eat it. So that’s in your milk, cheese and other dairy products but as I learned in Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal old dairy cows who can no longer produce milk are sent to slaughter to make your hamburgers too.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bt cotton seeds are pressed into cottonseed oil which is used in mayonnaise, salad dressings, margarine, cookies, bread, boxed cereals, artificial “butter” products and potato chips.
So do you do about all of this? Read: 12 Ways To Avoid Or Stop Genetically Modified Cotton
Photo Credit: USDA
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
Big Cotton: How A Humble Fiber Created Fortunes, Wrecked Civilizations, and Put America on the Map
Cotton and the Environment