A new report released today by the Pesticide Action Network UK has reinforced our belief that making Arthur & Henry shirts from organically grown cotton is the right thing to do.
The report asks if cotton has conquered its chemical addiction and answers it no, not really, actually globally cotton farming is the fourth largest user of agricultural chemicals.
Whilst it points out that data is hard to come by and some cotton farms, particularly those in highly developed countries with mechanised production and highly trained workers, have managed to reduced some chemical inputs; and that there has been an increase in cotton grown under sustainability standards, still
"...many highly hazardous pesticides are used in cotton production and, in some regions, the conditions under which pesticides are used continue to give rise to pesticide exposure and poisoning incidents. This is particularly true in smallholder cotton production"
There are health implications to this pesticide usage
"Symptoms recorded include impairment of the nervous system, lower neurobehavioral performance, delayed puberty, breast milk contamination, blood abnormalities as well as many acute symptoms such as nausea, respiratory problems, dizziness and convulsions"
"Occupational poisoning levels are high with as many as 42% of farmers reporting signs and symptoms of pesticide poisoning."
Which have financial implications with 21% of farmers not being able to work for between two and five days. When you're living pretty much hand-to-mouth that makes a big difference.
The report has in depth information on pesticide usage in each of the major cotton producing countries as well as summaries of all the literature on pesticide poisoning amongst cotton farmers.
Whilst smallholder farmers (found in India and Africa) often are the ones both using the most and suffering the most from pesticide poisoning due to lack of training (one more reason why farmers who are part of organic farming groups like ours benefit), the report also cites the example of Turkey which also has smallholder farmers but has both avoided genetically modified cotton and has low pesticde usage figures.
It's not an easy read - we haven't even touched here on what the use of pesticides in cotton is doing to wildlife - including most worryingly to bees - but it is worth it.