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Protecting Our Planet and Protecting Ourselves: The Importance of Organic Cotton

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When picking out that new top or cute dress, the style and fit are the obvious attributes we focus on. But how and where -- and from what materials -- that clothing is made is important too, especially when it comes to buying organic. We know about the health benefits of buying organic food and using organic cleaning products, but what about organic materials in fashion?

If you are an animal lover, care about what goes on your body or are concerned with the welfare of others, take note: wearing organic fabrics has a major positive impact on your health and the health of our planet.

What makes organic materials, like cotton, so much better than the conventional ones? Organic cotton is grown in a way that uses methods and materials that lessen the impact on our environment. A big effort in the organic movement is to use growing systems that replenish and maintain soil fertility and build biologically diverse agriculture. Organic cotton uses far less water too.

The main benefit of organic materials, however, is that the crops aren't treated with pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and Genetically Modified Organisms. These toxins are harmful for farmers and workers, us as consumers, and entire wildlife eco-systems.

And yet, less than one percent of all cotton grown is organic. We can and must do better.

Conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other crop in the world. It is estimated that each year cotton producers use as much as 25 percent of the world's insecticides and more than 10 percent of the world's pesticides; an incredible amount for one just one crop.

These chemicals can be deadly. Such pesticides poison farmers all over the world. Factory workers too have to breathe in their fumes during the manufacturing process. According to the World Health Organization up to 20,000 deaths each year are caused by pesticide poisoning in developing countries. Here in the US alone, more than 10,000 farmers die each year from cancers related to such chemicals.

To make matters worse, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also found that pesticides unintentionally kill at least 67 million birds annually in the U.S.

These chemicals seep into run-off water after heavy rains, poisoning lakes, rivers and waterways. Pesticide residue has been increasingly discovered in foods, farm animals and even breast milk. Not only are these carcinogens responsible for thousands of cases cancer in adults, they are particularly harmful to young children who can develop debilitating neurodevelopmental effects.

We even feel the harmful effects of non-organic cottons and fabrics in our daily lives. Irritated skin, rashes and even headaches and dizziness can be caused by the chemical residue trapped in the threads.

More and more brands and fashion houses are committing to organic materials. H&M recently became the world's largest buyer of organic cotton. Dozens of smaller brands have also championed organic materials, but we as consumers need to do more. If our choices literally kill our farmers, destroy are rivers and streams and endanger our youth we are have an obligation to consider organic along with style and fit. It's that important.

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