Mother Earth Living

Test Your Organic Cotton Knowledge

Take our cotton pickin' quiz
By Vivienne Jannatpour
September/October 2005
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Organic cotton options for your bedding, towels and clothing are now widely available, but do you know exactly what you’re buying?

1. What is required to qualify for an “organic cotton” label?
a. no pesticides used in fields for three years
b. fertilized without the use of chemicals or sewage sludge
c. approved by a third-party certifier
d. all of the above

2. Of all the pesticides used in the United States, what percent is used on cotton crops?
a. 5 percent
b. 15 percent
c. 25 percent
d. 35 percent

3. True or False? No chemicals are used in processing organic cotton.

4. How much more than conventional does organic cotton really cost?
a. 0–20 percent more
b. 21–50 percent more
c. 51–80 percent more
d. 81–100 percent more


1. d. All of the above. To grow cotton organically, farmers may not use synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, irradiation, sewage sludge or genetic engineering for three years. Instead, they use beneficial insects that prey on harmful pests, improve soil health with organic compost, rotate crops to alleviate soil-borne pathogens, and pull weeds by machine or hand.

2. c. About 25 percent of all pesticides used in the United States are applied to cotton. Globally, about 10 percent of all pesticides are used on cotton. In California, five of the top nine pesticides used on cotton are carcinogenic, endangering farm workers’ health and causing environ- mental degradation.

3. False. Federal organic-fiber standards regulate the on-farm production of raw fiber, but there are no standards for the fiber after it leaves the farm. This means cotton can be treated with sizing agents, chlorine bleach or heavy metal-containing dyes and still legally be “organic.”

4. b. 21 to 50 percent. Raw cotton’s cost per pound is only 25 cents more for organic than conventional, but the organic market is still small, so it lacks economies of scale (Pesticide Action Network North America, ( To support the organic cotton industry, buy organic clothing, towels and bedding and ask retailers to stock organic cotton products.

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