The Most Popular of the Organic Fibers
By far the most popular of the organic fibers is organic cotton. With concern for the environment on the up-rise, the push toward a greener lifestyle has seen an increase in consumer demand for organic cotton products. US production showed a 26% increase in 2009, while globally production increased by 20% over previous years. The US only trails India, Turkey, Syria, Tanzania and China in organic cotton production. Organic cotton fiber is used in everything from clothes and personal care items to linens, home décor and toys. Not only are the fibers being used in more products, but the seeds also have seen an increase in use especially in human food products and animal feed.
Organic and conventional growing methods are quite different. Conventional cotton production uses more chemicals per unit area than any other crop. Not only do these chemicals pollute the air, soil, and ground waters, but residuals of these chemicals on cotton fibers may cause skin irritation. As with all organic products, the goal is to grow and produce with a low environmental impact. Organic cotton growing methods actually replenish the soil and maintain a natural ecological balance. Regulations prohibit the use of genetically enhanced seeds and because it is grown without the use of toxic fertilizers and pesticides, soil and groundwater contamination is eliminated. Cotton growers who use organic methods to grow and harvest cotton offer consumers a purer product and also benefit the environment by eliminating contaminants to the soil and ground waters.
Regulations for Growing Organic Cotton
Cotton grown and sold in the US as organic must adhere to strict regulations. These regulations are outlined in the Organic Foods Production Act and cover specific practices for controlling pests, for fertilizing and for handling organic crops. Following is a summary of these regulations:
- Prior to any crop planting, fields must be deemed organic through a three year period in which no prohibited substance is used on or near that field.
- The organic field must be surrounded by physical barriers that prevent contact, including runoff, with a non-organic crop.
- Growers are responsible for using natural cultivation practices to improve soil conditions and control soil erosion.
- Growers may only apply substances to crop production that are identified in the National List of Allowed Synthetic Substances.
These regulations are enforced by the National Organic Program through the USDA. If guidelines are not met, organic certification is not given. Organic Certification is the process of assuring that a certain product meets specified criteria for quality, production, growing, storing, packaging and shipping as established by national organic standards. Exempt entities are operations whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less.
To be approved by the state certifying agency or the USDA, organic cotton producers must present for approval a step by step plan for their production and handling procedures. The plan must;
- identify all substances used on the crops
- include an explanation of preventative measures to assure the organic crop does not come in contact with any non-organic crops
- describe all of the procedures followed to avoid crop contamination during the handling procedures (picking and packaging)
Organic cotton growing fields are subject to periodic inspections.
The biggest hurdle for growers is consumer understanding of the value added costs of buying organic cotton products. Additional expenses to establish an organic planting environment, growing challenges of crop lost to insects and weeds, higher labor costs for special handling requirements, and competition from international markets make US organic cotton products slightly more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. But consumers must realize the benefits of using organic cotton products far outweigh the slightly higher price.
Foremost is the benefit to human health. Human exposure to toxic pesticides and fertilizers cause physical ailments like headaches and nausea, with prolonged exposure having more serious effects ranging from hormonal or nervous system problems, reproductive or immune system issues, or even cancer. Also of importance is the benefit to the environment. The absence of harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the production promote ecological balance and avoid soil and water contamination.
Well worth a few extra dollars, organic cotton products offer a better solution for our health and for the environment.
Organic Certification is the process of assuring that a certain product meets specified criteria for quality, production, growing, storing, packaging and shipping as established by national organic standards. The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the National Organic Program (NOP) are charged with ensuring the integrity of USDA organic products in the US and throughout the world. Operations that produce and process organic agricultural products must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-accredited certifying agents. Exempt entities are operations whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less.
The labeling requirements of the NOP apply to raw, fresh products and processed products that contain organic agricultural ingredients. Agricultural products that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be produced and processed in accordance with the NOP standards which “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity”. Requirements for Certified Organic cover the absence of synthetic chemicals in the product’s production including fertilizers, pesticides or any kind of additives. Additionally, there can be no use of human sludge as fertilizer and no genetic modifications made to the product. Detailed production and sale records must be kept and regular site visits are made to confirm the strict separation of organic and non-organic products.
The National Organic Program (NOP) was enacted as federal legislation in the US in 2002. It restricts the use of the term “organic” to certified organic producers selling more than $5,000 a year. Certification is handled by state, non-profit and private agencies that have been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Any product labeled ‘Made With Organic….’ must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Federal legislation defines three labeling categories of organic foods.
Labeling categories are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in that product:
- Label Category 1 - 100% Organic These are products whose ingredients are wholly certified organic. Products in this category must not contain any synthetics, additives, fertilizers, chemicals, pesticides or any genetically engineered substance and cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. These products must show an ingredient list, the name and address of the producer or processor of the finished product and the name and seal of the organic certifier. Products meeting the requirements for Label Category 1, may display the term ‘100% Organic’ on the label. The percentage of organic content, the seal of the certifying agent as well as the USDA Seal are also allowed on the label and in product advertisements.
- Label Category 2 - Organic This category is for products who have at least 95% organic ingredients, excluding water and salt. Any remaining product ingredients must be on the ‘National List’ as approved ingredients that are either non- agricultural substances or non-organically produced agricultural substance not commercially available in organic form. In the US, the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 “requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances which identifies synthetic substances that may be used and the non-synthetic substances that cannot be used in organic production and handling operations”. The five percent non-organic ingredients could include additives or synthetics if they are on the approved list but products are not allowed to be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. Labeling in this category must contain a list that identifies both the organic as well as the non-organic ingredients in the product as well as the name of the organic certifier. Products meeting the requirements for Label Category 2, may display the term ‘Organic’ as well as the percentage of organic content, the seal of the certifying agent and the USDA Seal. All of these are also allowed in the product advertisements.
- Label Category 3 - Made with Organic Ingredients This category is for products that contain a minimum of 70% organic ingredients. Not allowed are any products that are produced using identified excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. This category may display up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the main part of the label and may also display the logo of the certification body that approved them. The label must contain a list that identifies the organic as well as the non-organic ingredients in the product along with the name of the organic certifier. Processed products in Label Category 3 may not use the term Organic anywhere on the main part of the product label. They may, however, specify in the ingredients statement on the information part of the label any ingredients that are organically produced. Additionally, the name and address of the certifying agent of the ?nal product must be displayed on the information panel.
There is strict enforcement by the USDA of the National Organic Program standards. In accordance with the National Organic Program’s regulations anyone who knowingly sells or labels a product as organic that is not produced within the organic certification process can face a civil penalty of up to $11,000. Consumers should feel confident in the organic certification process and in the subsequent product labeling.