Making Informed Choices
Everyday brands and retailers make a myriad of choices about the products they offer their customers. These choices include the type of product made, the materials used to make it, the design of the product and its price. Farmers also have the right to make informed choices about what they plant and how they cultivate it, just as consumers do - and just as people have a rightful expectation of factual information.
This report is the first segment in a series of reports by the Organic Exchange entitled Making Informed Choices. This series of reports is designed to help farmers, companies and consumers better understand the cotton production choices that are available, and the key environmental, economic and social issues associated with different methods of producing cotton.
A few things you should know about cotton, the environment, our society and the economy.
Cotton is a highly valued fiber that is grown on 76 million acres world-wide1; this represents approximately 2.4% of global arable land1. Between 40%-47% of the world’s textiles are made from cotton 1 2, making this a $ 334 billion industry in 20043. Cotton is grown in over 100 countries representing approximately 50 million farmers globally1
Cotton is grown in a variety of ways. The majority of cotton is grown on irrigated land representing 53% of cotton fields1. Over 90% of cotton production involves the use of synthetic chemicals, with 20% using lower input practices (IP/CM – Integrated Pest/Crop Management)1. Worldwide, genetically modified organism (GMO) cotton is grown on an estimated 20% of acres worldwide1, with an estimated 80% in the US1. Certified organic cotton currently represents an estimated .1% of the cotton grown in the world4.
All of these cotton production practices have environmental, social and economic impacts that can and should be measured.
We welcome the opportunity to explore the differences and to encourage investment in the production practices which provide the greatest value.
This initial report is designed to briefly address key issues and questions associated with pesticide use.
Environmental Impacts of Pesticide Use on Cotton
Farmers using conventional cotton practices use a variety of chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) throughout the growing season. Before cotton is planted, the soil is prepared by applying fertilizers and pre-emergent herbicides and the seed is treated with insecticides. In many instances, as the seed is planted, additional insecticides are applied. As the cotton grows, additional applications of insecticides, herbicides and growth regulators are applied. Finally, at the end of the growing season, a defoliant is applied to prepare the plant for harvest. (Note: The word 'pesticides' includes herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, growth regulators, desiccants and others.)
The current conventional cotton production system is heavily dependent upon pesticides and fertilizers. Current data from USDA indicates that almost 6 pounds of pesticides are applied per acre.
It is not only the amount of pesticides that are applied, but also the types of impacts they have on the health and well-being of the people in the rural communities. Pesticides don't stop at the farm-gate - they impact the soil, water and air that we all share.
Pesticides used on cotton can cause a number of health risks. For example, several are rated as highly hazardous, able to cause sickness and even death. The list of pesticides which have been identified as such are listed below:
For More Information: http://www.inchem.org/documents/pds/pdsother/class.pdf
The WHO Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard and Guidelines to Classification. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. 2004.
Pesticides used on Cotton in the U.S. and Links to Cancer
Several pesticides used on cotton in the U.S. are carcinogenic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies the herbicide diuron a 'known/likely' carcinogen, while it classifies the following pesticides as 'Group C - Possible Human Carcinogens:'acephate, bifenthrin, cypermethrin, dicofol, dimethipin, dimethoate, metolachlor, pendimethalin and trifluralin. 8
TOP 5 Pesticides Used on Cotton in the U.S. (in pounds)
(I) - Insecticides (H) - Herbicide
1. Glyphosate isoproylamine (H) = 14,112,000
2. Ethephon (I) = 8,248,000
3. Malathion (I) = 7,297,000
4. Trifluralin (H) = 3,522,000
5. Acephate (I) = 2,897,000
According to the survey, the Top 5 pesticides amount to 23,376,000 pounds or 42 percent of the total applied; 55,231.000 pounds.6
Toxicity of Top 5 Pesticides used on Cotton in the U.S.
According to the Pesticide Action Network9
Potential groundwater contamination
Moderately Acutely Toxic
Potential Groundwater Contamination
Suspect Endocrine Disruptor
Possible Human Carcinogen - EPA
Suspect Endocrine Disruptor
Possible Human Carcinogen - EPA
Potential Groundwater Contamination
Synthetic Chemical Utilization
Listed below are three different studies / surveys that give information regarding pesticide utilization in the U.S. The first is a graph from 2003 which shows the different
amounts of pesticides that are used in various geographic regions. The second is a survey from 2005 which lists the various pesticides utilized and the amounts that we applied in that crop year. The third is a summary from a Texas A&M which gives information on test plots designed to replicate the production practices in West Texas.
Pesticide Usage in the US in 2003
Source: United States Department of Agriculture5
More information on the Farm Resource Regions can be found at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/ARMS/resourceregions/resourceregions.htm#new
Chemicals and fertilizers are widely used for conventional cotton production
The following is information from an Agricultural Chemical Usage 2005 Field Crops Summary, May 2006, regarding Upland Cotton6
Upland Cotton: Nine cotton producing States were included in the 2005 Survey: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas (It should be noted that not all states participated, so these numbers are not comprehensive) . Nitrogen applications averaged 90 pounds per acre per crop year adding up to 978 million pounds being applied to 88% of these states planted acres. A total of 370.9 million pounds of phosphate was applied to 65% of the upland cotton planted acres in the Program States. Potash was applied to 55% of the planted acreage totaling 498.9 million pounds in the States surveyed. Sulfur was applied on 38% of the acres planted for a total of 69.4 million pounds.
Herbicides were applied to 95% of the upland cotton acreage in 2005 in the 9 Program States. Glyphosate isopropylamine salt (formerly recorded as Glyphosate) was the most widely applied herbicide, applied to 71% of the planted acreage at a rate of 1.592 pounds per acre per crop year for a total of 14.1 million pounds. The next most commonly applied herbicide on a per acre basis, Trifluralin, at 32%, was also the second most used, in total pounds, at 3.5 million pounds. That was followed by Diuron being applied to 27% of the planted acreage of upland cotton. (Note: Both Trifluralin and Diuron are categorized as Class C: Possible Human Carcinogens by EPA.)
Insecticides were applied to 71% of the 2005 upland cotton planted acreage. The 3 most commonly applied insecticides reported in the States surveyed were Acephate, Aldicarb, and Dicrotophos which were applied to 27%, 19% and 19% of the planted acreage, respectively. However, Malathion was the most applied in terms of total pound, at 7.3 million pounds, but was applied to just 15% of the planted acreage. (Note: Acephate is categorized as Class C: Possible Human Carcinogen by EPA.)
Fungicide treatments were applied to 3% of the upland cotton acreage in the Program States. PCNB was applied most heavily at 87 thousand pounds to the planted acres, followed by Mefenoxam and Azoxystrobin at 19 and 12 thousand pounds, respectively, for the upland cotton planted acreage in the States surveyed.
Usage of Other Chemicals, primarily desiccants, varied among the States surveyed. Overall, 72% of the acres planted to upland cotton in the program States received an application of another chemical. Ethephon was used most commonly as 8.2 million pounds were applied to 58% of the planted acres, followed by Mepiquat chloride and Tribufos being applied to 33% and 26% of the upland cotton acreage in the State surveyed, respectively.
The totals from this report indicate that the average amount applied to the planted acres was 5.87 pounds per acre. The chart below shows the usage of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and other synthetic chemicals as per this report6.
The Texas A&M Ag-Cares 2005 project based in Lamesa, Texas indicates that 5.5 pounds of pesticides were utilized per acre to replicate dryland cotton (non-GMO)
practices in the region. The 'dryland with GMO' (genetically modified organisms) cotton used 10.8 pounds of pesticides per acre and the 'irrigated GMO' system used 12.7 pounds per acre, with an additional 320 pounds of petrochemically generated synthetic fertilizers applied. In the case of the irrigated cotton, a total of 332.7 pounds of pesticides and fertilizers are applied per acre7. This data in this study also indicates that the use of GMO seed actually increases the use of chemicals rather than decreasing. Prior to the introduction of the GMO seed, weeds were spot-treated in this geographic region. With the introduction of this technology into the production practices, entire fields are being sprayed.
Impacts on our Society
People and the impact on people and the communities in which they live must also be one of the factors when defining “sustainability” for cotton. For some in the cotton industry, “labor intensive” may be a negative; however, others consider it a positive in rural communities by continuing to offer jobs.
The health impacts of the people and farm workers should be considered in this future discussion as well as issues about child labor, bonded labor, and unpaid family labor. All of these issues have impacts on families and farming communities.
Economic sustainability has to be part of the equation as well. Economic sustainability is dependent upon production versus yields, but this equation alone cannot be used to determine 'sustainability'. Net incomes/profitability, rural economy gains and losses, the landscape and leisure value of farming systems and maintenance of rural society services and structures, and the positive and negative impacts on rural population and economic migration have to considered.
Who We Are
Formed in 2002, the Organic Exchange is a non-profit which facilitates expansion of the global organic cotton fiber supply by working closely with farmers, leading brands and retailers and their business partners to develop organic cotton programs. The Organic Exchange is governed by a board of directors which includes organic farmers, manufacturers and brands and retailers. We have more than 125 companies that sponsor our organization and work with hundreds of companies each year. We value collaboration and seek partners from the government, non-profit, research and academic sectors who want to create innovative and sustainable ways to help people around the world meet their basic needs for items such as water, shelter, clothing and food.
Background and context:
The data referenced in this report are available in the 'Cotton Facts and Figures' section on the Organic Exchange web site Specifically, the site offers a 'Fast Facts' entry point, provides links to all references and offers downloads of all articles and research we have referenced. This site will be updated on a continuous basis in all categories.
1 Kooistra, K.J., Pyburn, R., Termorshuizen, A.J. 2006. The sustainability of cotton. Consequences for man and environment, Science Shop Wageningen University & Research Centre. Report 223. ISBN: 90-6754-90-8585-000-2. www.wur.nl/wewi This report assesses conventional, IPM and organic systems in terms of ecological and social impacts and summarizes recent data on the three different production systems from a sustainability perspective. Facts and statistics are among the most up to date of recent publications.
2. Simon Ferrigno with Karen Nicholls and Georgina Thomas Dress Sense: a consumer guide to shopping for organic cotton textiles Pesticide Action Network UK: London 2005
3. The Changing World Network of Trade in Textiles and Apparel Thomas Vollrath, firstname.lastname@example.org Mark Gehlhar, email@example.com Stephen MacDonald, firstname.lastname@example.org AMBER WAVES ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERVICE/USDAVOLUME 2 ISSUE 4 2004
4. Simon Ferrigno ORGANIC COTTON FIBER REPORT Spring 2006 Organic Exchange: Oakland April 2006
5 USDA Economic Research Service online http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/ARMS/app/Crop.aspx
6 Agricultural Statistic Board, NASS, USDA; Agricultural Chemical Usage 2005 Field Crops Summary, May 2006
7 Texas A&M University System; Ag-Cares 2005, and accompanying spreadsheets
8 US Environmental Protection Agency; Chemicals Evaluated for Carcinogenic Potential