All About Organic Cotton Certification

We’re all familiar with the Organic logo on our food.  As the popularity of organic living increases, more and more people are looking to start using organic cotton in their homes as well.  Unlike organic foods, there are no regulations on use of the term “organic cotton.”  In fact, conventional farmers can claim they have certified organic cotton when they don’t have anything even close to organic cotton.

Will the real Organic Cotton please stand up?

Fortunately, certification boards exist for farmers to verify they are producing the real deal.  The process can take up to three years, and farms must go through a stringent verification in order to become officially certified organic.  This helps the consumer greatly, however, by allowing you to know you’re getting actual organic cotton instead of an intruder.

Certification Terms

If there are companies claiming to be growing “certified organic cotton” that aren’t actually doing so, what should consumers look for?  Keep an eye out for these certifications to know you’re getting the real thing:

  • GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) This is the most desirable certification, it ensures not only organic content but also socially and sustainably responsible processing
  • OE (Organic Exchange)
    • You’ll usually see OE 100 or OE Blended.  OE100 is 100% organic cotton but it might not be processed organically.  OE Blended contains at least 5% organic cotton.
  • OCS (Organic Content Standard)
    • This certification helps to assure organic farming practices

How much organic cotton is being grown?

Cotton accounts for a significant amount of the crops grown worldwide.  It’s also the largest water-consuming crop in the world.  Organic cotton uses less water and helps to boost the local water supply and food quality of nearby farms.  Organic cotton is now grown in over a dozen countries, by over 200,000 thousand farms and over 500,000 bales are grown annually.  Even with these massive numbers, less than 1% of cotton grown worldwide is certified organic!  Organizations are working to educate cotton farmers on the benefits of growing organic cotton, as well as to expedite the process of organic certification.

In America, organic cotton is mostly grown in California, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas.  Over 80% of the organic cotton grown in the US is grown in Texas.

Who are these farmers?

Most farmers growing organic cotton have been cotton farmers for generations.  While we are increasingly losing our connections to our ancestors who farmed here in America, millions of people make their living farming worldwide and farming is still a massive part of many communities worldwide.  Farmers are often eager to switch over to organic practices once they learn the benefits such as:

  • Decreased water use
  • Healthier soil
  • Increased ability to grow other plants nearby
  • Cleaner water for their community
  • Higher pay
  • Less expense overall (GMO seeds can be up to 10 times more expensive than organic cotton seeds.)
  • Greater crop yield
  • Significantly less health risks

Plus, many farms become certified Fair Trade as well as obtaining organic certification.  This serves as a major benefit all the way from farmer to seamstress.

How do companies become certified?

The organic cotton certification process is an extremely lengthy process.  Each certifying organization has slightly different regulations. The general process is fairly similar.  It can take several years for the process to become completed.  However, as the demand for Organic cotton grows, the process will hopefully become less time intensive as more staff can work on certifying the farms.  Certification and organic practices don’t end at the farm, however.  The processing facilities, spinning, weaving, milling, etc. for conventional cotton use massive amounts of chemicals.  Organic cotton textile certifications must go from the farm to the consumer.

In order to become certified textile companies must:

  • Use non-GMO cotton seeds
  • Never use synthetic pesticides
  • Undergo certification verifying the spinning factory can process organic cotton and adhere to organic practices
  • Certify organic processes at the farms
  • Farms must have an ecosystem management plan in place
  • Apply through the accredited third-party & pass all inspections, as well as an annual inspection
  • Rotate crops
  • Farms must avoid defoliants
  • Undergo contamination and residue testing
  • Obtain all the proper scope certifications, this varies based on certifying organization but can include certificates for Farming, Ginning, Spinning, Weaving, Dyeing and Finishing, Sewing and the Retailer

The inspections and process often include a 2-3 year period where the farm is transitioning from convention cotton growth to organic.  Many of the third party certifiers work alongside farms to help ensure the process and help farmers understand the new requirements for their farming practices.  An in-depth look at all finances will take place as well to ensure that all funds are being spent on proper items.  In addition, all storage, harvesting, processing, and water facilities will be assessed and viewed in the inspection process.  

The process is extremely lengthy and involved.  In the end, it’s worth it to create a cleaner and healthier product for all involved.

How can I help?

The best way to help increase the yield of organic cotton grown is to vote with your dollar.  By buying organically grown, and processed, cotton the demand increases.  As demand increases more farms will make the switch.  If everyone switched over to organic cotton the impact would be drastic on our global food and water supply.  

 

Keep an eye here on our blog to learn more about organic and natural fibers.

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