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

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Wednesday January 27th, 2010 | 5 Comments

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.”


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  • Aaron Skykes

    Since when does being organic have anything to do with GMO? You could certainly have Organic Cotton that was also GMO. If they were only claiming it was organic, they've done nothing illegal. If they were claiming that it was NOT GMO in addition to being organic, then yes, there's a problem.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/jen.boynton Jen Boynton

    Hey Aaron, the organic guidelines don't allow GMOs. http://knowledgeandexperience.blogspot.com/2009

    Cheers,

    Jen

  • http://www.organicitsworthit.org/ OrganicTrade

    As spelled out in U.S. national organic standards, the use of genetic engineering (GE) is prohibited in organic agricultural practices. Thus, organic farmers growing cotton cannot use GE seed in their production.

    However, evidence is mounting that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from GE crops often show up where they were never used. Contamination is a real threat. As long as GE crops are allowed, organic producers, at the very least, are at risk from background levels of GMOS. Cultivation of GE crops on nearby farms can contaminate organic crops via pollen drift, via insects and bees, or via seed contamination.

    The truth is that organic agriculture exists in a world where certain crops, like cotton, are becoming dominated by GE production. This has led to questions over who should be liable when GE contaminates an organic crop. It can be argued that this should fall in the domain of the owner of the GE crop, rather than the organic one. However, there are no safeguards in place at this point.

    For organic agricultural crops used in making apparel and other fiber-based non-food products, certification to the U.S. National Organic Program indicates to retailers and consumers that genetic engineering has not been allowed in the production stage.

    However, to ensure organic integrity, it is critical that the entire supply chain, from farm through the finished products, be controlled. And that leads to the importance of standards covering the processing of organic cotton into apparel and other products.

    Such a standard exists. It is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The Organic Trade Association is part of the International Working Group that helped develop GOTS. GOTS provides a standard to which companies can become certified to cover their processing practices for finished organic fiber products.

    Today, more than ever, it is important not only to follow national organic standards for crop production to safeguard the organic integrity of a fiber crop like cotton, but also to then become certified to GOTS to ensure that organic integrity is reflected in the finished product.

    Organic. It's Worth It.

  • http://www.organicitsworthit.org/ OrganicTrade

    As spelled out in U.S. national organic standards, the use of genetic engineering (GE) is prohibited in organic agricultural practices. Thus, organic farmers growing cotton cannot use GE seed in their production.

    However, evidence is mounting that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from GE crops often show up where they were never used. Contamination is a real threat. As long as GE crops are allowed, organic producers, at the very least, are at risk from background levels of GMOS. Cultivation of GE crops on nearby farms can contaminate organic crops via pollen drift, via insects and bees, or via seed contamination.

    The truth is that organic agriculture exists in a world where certain crops, like cotton, are becoming dominated by GE production. This has led to questions over who should be liable when GE contaminates an organic crop. It can be argued that this should fall in the domain of the owner of the GE crop, rather than the organic one. However, there are no safeguards in place at this point.

    For organic agricultural crops used in making apparel and other fiber-based non-food products, certification to the U.S. National Organic Program indicates to retailers and consumers that genetic engineering has not been allowed in the production stage.

    However, to ensure organic integrity, it is critical that the entire supply chain, from farm through the finished products, be controlled. And that leads to the importance of standards covering the processing of organic cotton into apparel and other products.

    Such a standard exists. It is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The Organic Trade Association is part of the International Working Group that helped develop GOTS. GOTS provides a standard to which companies can become certified to cover their processing practices for finished organic fiber products.

    Today, more than ever, it is important not only to follow national organic standards for crop production to safeguard the organic integrity of a fiber crop like cotton, but also to then become certified to GOTS to ensure that organic integrity is reflected in the finished product.

    Organic. It's Worth It.

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  • Rita May

    Fact: India is the world’s largest producer of organic cotton.

    Fact: The ‘scandal’ means poor indian farmers who have no means of rebuttal are scape-goated by large US and US interest cotton producers in the USA and Peru whose cotton is grown with insane amounts of pesticides, and intensive land use practices very destructive to the environment.

    Fact: The reports all over the web clearly brag “US cotton is the best!”

    I have lived among the cotton farmers in India. I know first hand their knowledge of the land and farming runs deep and their distrust of pesticides and chemicals is founded on long negative experience and careful observance of the disbalance created by them. I know the tragedy they face over gmo seeds bleeding into their ancient cotton varieties due to unethical growing practises by large US gmo companies (monsanto etc).

    Truth is: I’d rather have a bacteria’s gene inside the DNA of cotton that is effective against insects rather than tons of pesticide on my cotton bolls and in the rivers, oceans and world.

    I will continue to buy fine, beautiful Indian organic cotton. “Scandal” or no.