Sandwiched between the smooth sheets and a fluffy down comforter, I am a contented woman on these wintry nights. As happy as anyone can be who avoids the truth that they are sharing their bed with a toxic partner....
Cotton. Other than air, cotton is what touches my skin most often. It’s the predominant fabric of my towels, bed linens and clothing. It seems so natural, and even though I know otherwise, I want to believe in its innocence.
You can’t really be such a scumbag, I think, as I pull on a favorite cotton sweater. But, honey, as we all know regarding intimate relationships, wishin’ don’t make it so.
Before it sashays into our homes cotton has a few dalliances at the processing plant, partnering with unwholesome chemicals such as formaldehyde, flame and soil retardants, and harsh petroleum scours. Not one of these would we invite to touch us, even briefly.
If we look into its past, cotton’s first close relationship, with the environment, reveals it to be a callous user. It has a shocking chemical dependency problem. Twenty percent of the total pesticides used in agriculture globally are applied to cotton fields.
Nine of the pesticides most associated with cotton are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as Category I and II – the most dangerous of chemicals. Five of these are known to cause cancer. The tainted run–off from cotton fields defiles rivers and sickens people and wildlife.
Cotton plays too dominant a role in our lives based on its dangerous footprint. The wise saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” applies here. (And in so many other instances in which we are narrow–visioned. Consider that rickety basket labeled crude oil which, incidentally, is a component of cotton’s chemical infusions.)
Fibers that can be grown without taking a toll on every living thing include hemp, jute, flax and bamboo. It’s time for outside the box thinking.
My favorite candidate to dethrone cotton is stinging nettle. Donning a pair of stinging nettle underpants sounds like an exercise in self–flagellation but you would find them soft and supple, much like fine cotton.
Nettles are the super mensches of the plant kingdom. Every part – leaves, stems, roots – has value nutritionally, medicinally and as fiber and dyes. Even the stinging aspect is used in treating arthritis, allergies and prostate ailments.
Nettles are naturally disease and pest resistant and have a wide range of natural habitat. The plants can be harvested for 10 years before they need to be replaced. Ask yourself who loses in this scenario.
The answer is the biotech firms that create patented and genetically modified seeds and the chemicals that sustain that type of agriculture.
But what about organic cotton? That is a viable option – to some extent – and more growers are using this approach. Unfortunately, raising cotton by organic methods does not cut down on its thirst.
In a country such as India, where small–scale farming is common, a dry season can wipe out a cotton farmer. More than half of the world’s cotton is now grown in India in an area known as the suicide belt.
In 2006, 1044 farmers in Vidarbha killed themselves, many by drinking pesticides they had purchased (with borrowed money) for their fields. The farmer suicides began in 1997 and continue – the numbers uncertain, horrific.
Weather-based crop failure plays a part in this tragedy. Also involved are government subsidies (a bounty of subsidies to US agriculture drives prices downward for India’s farmers), moneylenders and Monsanto.
Monsanto began peddling expensive hybrid cottonseed in India and moved on to genetically modified cotton. Persuaded by glowing press from Monsanto and a herd mentality toward “upscale, modern” growing techniques, farmers found themselves dealing with a costly reliance on patented seed and the barrage of chemicals required to grow the GM cotton. Monsanto’s website proclaims its innocence. Other sources condemn the biotech firm’s marketing methods as a factor in the plague of farmer suicides.
Cotton is not inherently evil, nor is it worthy of being the principle fiber crop. The problem is in the way cotton has been manipulated and ruthlessly pimped. The relationship among pimps and product and consumers is constantly fraught with deceptions.
P.S. Check out greenpeace.org for their report entitled “Picking Cotton.” It is also good to be aware that cotton is not classified as a food crop so pesticide residues aren’t a regulatory concern in cottonseed oil, which is often the oil of choice in fast and junk foods.
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