This is what led me to look into the Australian cotton industry. Why weren’t we using the large amount of cotton we produced ourselves? Surely, transparency in production would be easier when the producers are close by.
What interested me most about Australian cotton, is that it is traceable from bale to paddock.
If a designer were to purchase Australian cotton, they could know exactly what practices were involved on the farms which it came from. They could ask how things worked, whether people were fairly paid and treated, and what sustainable practices were in use.
Via ABC – Fashion Revolution – Who Made My Clothes campaign
What worried me about Australian cotton though, was the discovery that there is not any certified organic cotton in Australia. I thought organic cotton was the most sustainable option, and also protected humans from harm? Was this true?
I found that genetically modified cotton uses far less water (even though it still uses a lot), and Australian cotton is some of the most water-efficient in the world, having achieved a 40% increase in water productivity over the last decade. It produces the most ‘crop per drop’ of cotton than any other nation, at two and a half times the world’s average yield. There are some farmers working on ‘dry land’, meaning there is no irrigation, only rains feeding the crop. I was liking the sound of all of this.
But what about pesticides?
I had not however found answers to my concerns around water pollution due to pesticides. And I have not fully negated my concerns surrounding this, as the potential for the poisoning of living beings and the earth alike is real with pesticides.
At this point though, it’s worth noting that non-organic does not always mean pesticides, it can just mean genetically modified cotton. I didn’t realise this. There are some cotton plantations in Australia not spraying pesticides at all, though many do. Pesticide use is down 90% in Australia compared to previous use, in part due to tactics around harvest times, and in part due to the strains of cotton being used.
Australian cotton, which is genetically modified and uses less pesticides (though to varying degrees), is able to produce more fibre, more efficiently. This means land use is excellent, as it means less deforestation, therefore less carbon emissions, and less destruction of native flora and fauna.
The fact that local cotton is less water and pesticide-intensive, sometimes requiring no pesticides while maintaining higher yields from a smaller amount of land, was making genetically modified Australian cotton looks pretty good.
In terms of pesticides and human health, Australian studies which looked into how farmers currently view pesticides, and what practices they put in place when spraying, found that a growing amount of farmers are using protective gear when they do use harmful pesticides (not all are, but there are many that are hazardous).
There are recommendations and legislations concerning how cotton pesticides are to be used, to ensure they do not end up where they are not supposed to, leading to harm to people in surrounding communities, as well as the planet. All of this seems to mean that the lack of, or amount of harm caused by pesticides used in Australia, is dependent on the specific practices being implemented on each farm.
There’s a lot of information, and it seems, benefits and concerns with both Australian and organic cotton.