Sometimes its really tough to make the right decisions. Like most moms, once I joined the parenthood club I began to spend hours upon hours each day researching the healthiest ways to raise my child and to preserve the world around him for his future. Clearly, Reader, you share this imperative and that is what brought you to this blog or particular post. Not much gets by us! All too often in our quest for a quiet conscience, we are faced with seemingly “no win” situations when there isn’t a clear answer about whats right.
For instance: the issue of organic cotton. Its a no-brainer that what we feed and clothe our baby with is best if its grown organically, free of harsh chemicals, pesticides and dyes and in the case of foods, without unwholesome additives. I am a proponent of organic farming: shopping at farmers markets to support local farmers, choosy about what meats to put on the table, etc. Right now, however, I am rather suspicious of the organic cotton industry as a whole–my suspicion roused by this article in Time magazine by Alex Perry: Battling A Scourge, The Battle For Global Health about how economic pressure to produce organic cotton is forcing third world farmers to put the health of their own families at risk to meet the wide global demand for organics. Without the use of insecticides in mosquito-ridden areas such as Uganda’s Lake Kwania region, malaria terrorizes its people and there aren’t medical resources enough to help.
Says Perry, ““Chemical-free farming sounds like a great idea in the West, but the reality is that Baby Omara is dying so Baby George can wear organic.” Having visited my share of third world countries, this statement resonates with me and I predict it will be the center of much controversy in the days, weeks and months to come.
There are further eyebrow-raising issues associated with the organic cotton industry–namely, that it is unregulated. While it is clear that to be certified organic, cotton crops must be grown without pesticides; the production of the textile thereafter is anyone’s guess. Cotton must go through a rigorous washing ritual to clean it of pectins as well as waxes and oils to allow for dyeing. Although it is possible to do this organically, it is common practice within the “organic” cotton industry to do so with petrol-based detergents and even bio-engineered enzymes. And the “low impact dyes”? Low impact dyes is a term created by corporations for the purpose of marketing. Most products labeled as such are not dyed with organically, naturally produced resources, but with petrol-based chemicals. Again, this part of the production process is completely unregulated. So if anyone thinks they are shielding their children from exposure to unwanted chemicals by buying something colored with low impact dyes, most likely they are just falling for clever marketing. Try to find products labeled “no impact dyes”. Quite a challenge, huh?
So what can be done with this disappointing (to say the least) information? It seems natural for a person to first look after the interest of other people and decide to avoid organically grown cotton so as not to contribute to the sickness and death of the children born in the agricultural regions that grow the stuff. The problem with that logic is, if it is our intention to look after the children, polluting the environment with pesticides damages the world in which our children live. Its a Catch 22 for which we must find some sort of solution. Ban the use of all cotton in our households? Keeping Baby naked and putting her to sleep in a bed of hay just isn’t practical.
My inner dialogue is as follows: I don’t want to hurt a hair on little Baby Omara’s head. How do we know we are buying products that are grown under only the most humane conditions? I don’t know; but I aim to find out and provide some solutions. Clearly the predominant portion of the organic cotton industry is not much more than a marketing ploy. Without stricter regulations, how can we tell if the fabric we clothe our children with is healthy? It seems the situation calls for some grassroots activism. And is there anyone out there who is doing this right? Not hurting the environment? Not harming people? Is there anyone providing an honest product that is exactly what they say it is? I am searching. Stay tuned for Part Two…