Did H&M Knowingly Pass Off GMO Cotton as Organic?

Some of the certified-organic cotton clothing sold by leading European brands and retailers contains genetically modified (GMO) cotton from India, according to the German edition of the Financial Times as reported by Ecouterre.com. Roughly 30 percent of the samples tested by Impetus, an independent German lab, contained GMO cotton. The European retailers exposed by Financial Times include H&M, C&A and Tchibo.

India is one of the largest producers of organic cotton. Sanjay Dave, the head of the Indian agricultural authority, Apeda, told the Financial Times that fraud was occurring on a “gigantic scale” and fines were issued to third-party certification agencies like EcoCert and Peterson Control Union last April.

“The fashion chains were not vigilant enough,” Monika Buening of Germany’s Federal Consumer Affairs Agency, told the German newspaper, Frankfurter Rundschau.

H&M said on its website:

There is no reason to believe that the organic cotton used for H&M’s garments was grown using genetically modified seeds. However, H&M was aware that last year the Indian authority APEDA criticized Control Union for insufficient checks of farmers’ control systems for seeds and sowing. As a consequence of the criticism, Control Union conducted unannounced audits of all organic cotton farms that they certify in India. None of the farms were found to use GM seeds, and all farms took the appropriate steps to ensure that GM seeds were not used.

On its website H&M also said that it will continue promoting organic cotton as part of its “environmental strategy.”

The demand for organic cotton fibers is greater than the supply

The Massachusetts based Organic Trade Association recently issued a report which said in 2009 11,856 acres of organic cotton were planted by U.S. cotton growers, but in comparison, 9.14 acres of conventional upland and Pima cotton were planted.

The report said that the average price per pound farmers received for organic cotton in 2008 decreased from 2007. The report contained survey responses from farmers who cited finding a market for organic cotton as one of the greatest barriers to planting it in 2010.

The OTA report also said that in 2006 organic fiber linens and clothing sales in the U.S. increased by 26 percent from 2005. Apparel companies across the globe are developing clothing lines that use 100 percent organically grown cotton, or blend small percentages of organic cotton with conventional cotton.

The Organic Cotton Market Report released last year by Organic Exchange said organic cotton supplies in 2008 increased as production surpassed demand. Demand for organic cotton fiber increased 33 percent in 2008.

The supply problem does not excuse H&M from telling the public part of the fibers used in its organic cotton clothing were contaminated with GMO cotton, if H&M knew about its presence. As Good magazine said, “If H&M tells you that a shirt is made from organic cotton without doing what they can to ensure that it is, that’s fraud and we should complain.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.