For the past several decades, organic cotton growers have been urging consumers to choose their clothing and bedding products that contain no pesticides. There has been a recent spike in interest in these types of garments as a result of heightened fears about the chemical ingredients in conventional cotton production. Pesticides are widely used by cotton farmers to control the pests that can threaten to destroy the profitability of the cotton industry. Unfortunately, these chemicals do not only pose health risks to humans who consume them, but they can also pose risks to the environment because they make it more difficult for insects to survive. In addition, the synthetic chemicals used to develop pesticides have resulted in some serious environmental consequences, such as the global warming effect.
Concerns over the use of pesticides have led to increased interest in organic foods. The effort to feed consumers with organic foods has spilled over into the clothing industry, as organic clothing companies seek to distinguish themselves from the competition by using no pesticides. This effort has had a somewhat limited success. While it is not uncommon to find “organic clothes” in department stores, many shoppers are unaware of the fact that these garments come from organic farms. A closer look at the practices of organic foods reveals that even organic food producers sometimes use pesticides.
The federal government classifies five groups of insecticides as “restricted use pesticides”. These include: systemic entropion, soil runoff, plant pollen, chlorpyrifos and methoxychlor. Of these, the most widely used is a systemic insecticide, which is available legally only if the producer of the product has signed onto the National List of Pest Control Practices. As a result of being on the restricted use list, however, it is difficult for organic farmers to get these products to the public. Even when a farmer is able to get access to pest control products, the cost of getting these products to the public through a distribution channel often makes the cost of organic farming more affordable.
To encourage organic farmers to continue to use pesticides, the USDA offers several grants, most notably the National Organic Program. In order to meet certification standards, the organic standards for agriculture, the USDA must require that farms implement effective and safe pest management techniques. For example, farmers must employ a preventative method to reducing the occurrence and severity of crop diseases by using a variety of methods.
The intent behind this is to reduce the number of insects that destroy crops by using non-chemical means. Unfortunately, there are still a variety of pests that do not respond to chemical pesticides, such as beneficial insects, which serve a beneficial purpose in reducing crop damage. As long as farmers practice good pest management techniques, the benefits of having reduced insect populations will outweigh the cost of purchasing and applying pesticides. There is also some evidence that pesticides may increase the vulnerability of crop fields to pathogen infection.
Another limitation that organic farmers have is the frequency in which soil must be re-irrigated after crop rotation. Since soil is so depleted, it requires additional inputs to bring it back up to a healthy level. One method that is being explored for increasing soil fertility is natural fertilization. This means that instead of introducing synthetic fertilizers, organic farmers can restore the natural nutrient value of soils through the introduction of natural compost and other organic matter. Some of the best ingredients for this natural fertilizer include animal manure, blood meal, fish emulsion, and bacillus thuringiensis.
Another concern among organic farmers is the threat to wildlife and pets of insecticides. The EPA believes that the majority of insecticides pose no significant risk to people or pets. However, some studies have shown that there have been elevated risks for children and adults exposed to residual pesticides over a long period of time. Many of these risks are associated with the use of rotenone, the main component in rotenone soil surfacing products.
Because agriculture is the largest contributor to global food supply, reducing the use of pesticides has been viewed as an important step to improving overall food security. Organic farmers are able to provide more healthy foods to consumers. With less pesticide residue on produce and a reduction in the use of dangerous insecticides, pesticides may play a smaller role in the food chain. In the meantime, agricultural research is looking at new ways to protect crops from excessive residue, including the development of a rice variety that will inhibit pesticides when it grows.