A major concern with cotton production today is the use of genetically modified (GMO) cotton seed, and most of the cotton seed available today is GMO. The rationale behind the GMO cotton seed is that farmers no longer have to spend as much money on herbicides or pesticides, because the seed is engineered to fight off pests on its own, howevever GMO crops are associated with pesticide resistant insects and secondary insect infestation. The companies that produce GMO Bt cotton seed have introduced a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt that encodes a protein in cotton plants which acts as a pesticide. Under normal circumstances, Bt is a bacterium that lives naturally in the soil, and it is sometimes used to kill garden pests. However, studies, such as the reports available at Organic Trade Association and Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, indicate that Bt cottonseed has its own set of problems. First, by eliminating the pests most susceptible to Bt, the door is left open to secondary pests, whose presence in the field is normally held back by competition with the primary Bt susceptible pest. In the case of cotton, the cotton bollworm is susceptible to Bt. With the removal of the bollworm, other damaging insects, such as aphids, thrips and mealy bugs, are on the rise in cotton fields in India and other cotton growing countries.
The second problem with GMO cotton seed is that the primary insect pest, the cotton bollworm, is showing signs of developing a resistance to the genetically modified seed. This forces farmers to use stronger pesticides to kill both the bollworm and the other secondary insect pests.
Finally, studies indicate that humans and animals exposed to the GMO cotton can develop serious health issues from the plant matter. In India, farmers report their livestock become ill or even die after grazing on cotton field residue. Farmers who handpick the Bt cotton have reported respiratory or allergy-like symptoms after handling the cotton plants. Also, scientists have found that Bt is more toxic to humans and other mammals than previously thought. The report at collective evolution states that mammalian red blood cells are damaged in the presence of Bt exposure.
Another aspect of GMO cotton seed is the human cost, as documented in Miched Pelad’s 2011 film, Bitter Seeds. The GMO cotton seeds have had a devastating effect on Indian cotton farmers. The combination of high cost of GMO cotton seeds and massive crop failures has created a situation where the farmers can no longer afford to keep their land or support their families. The end result is a high suicide rate among Indian cotton farmers.
At Aquarian Bath we introduced hemp and Organic Cotton fabrics to our line of flaxseed pillows in 2013 in response to a growing awareness about the issues with conventional and GMO cotton and conventional cotton textiles. We are continuing to add Organic cotton flaxseed pillows to our line this year and will discuss the differences between Organic cotton Textiles and versus conventional cotton textiles in a future blog post.
Flax pillow made with GOTS certified Organic Cotton fabric from Cloud9Fabrics.