Organic cotton

  • Cotton grown without the use of synthetic chemicals is considered ‘organic cotton’.
  • Organic cotton can be more susceptible to pest damage.
  • It has been proven to be uneconomical to grow organic cotton in Australia.

The term ‘organic’ refers to food and fibre farming and production methods that are managed in accordance with organic standards and is grown using seeds that are not genetically modified (source: Australian Certified Organic, 2014).

In 2010, worldwide production of organic cotton amounted to about one per cent of the total cotton grown (source: ICAC 2011). In most countries where organic cotton is grown, conventional and genetically modified cotton crops co-exist.

In 2012-13, the largest organic cotton producers by volume were India, China, Turkey, Tanzania and the United States (source: Textile Exchange, 2014).

A small number of Australian cotton growers have experimented with organic cotton in the past, but it proved to be uneconomical to grow and has therefore inhibited it from entering long-term commercial production in Australia.

Challenges of growing organic cotton

Cotton grown without the use of synthetic chemicals is considered ‘organic cotton’. Some organic cotton growers may use natural crop management and protection tools such as sulphur dust, citric acid, nitrogen, and zinc sulphate (source: ICAC, 2006).

It can take more than three years for a farm to receive organic certification.

Organic cotton can be more susceptible to pest damage (source: University of California, 2006), compared to transgenic or genetically modified cotton crops that produce toxins that are lethal to the key Helicoverpa spp. pest of cotton.

Most organic standards take a number of factors into consideration, including water and irrigation, soil, air, seeds, machinery, and pest/weed control (source: NASAA, 2004).

Organic production typically requires more human labour, land and cost input than conventional cotton production (source: European Union, 2014 and ICAC, 2006).

A six-year study of three cotton growing methods found that organic cotton recorded lower yields than conventional cotton growing methods (source: University of California, 2006).

Some organic certification processes are conducted from field to fabric, and may include ginning and manufacturing.

In some cases, organic cotton is processed using the same dyes, fabrication and finishes as conventional cotton (unless stated on the product label).

In Australia, more than half a dozen organisations manage organic certification systems.

Consumers can find organic cotton in a range of everyday items ranging from make-up removal pads and cotton earbuds, to denim and baby clothing