Cotton is the crop that consumes the most harmful insecticides worldwide. Cotton covers 2.4 per cent of the world’s farmland, but uses 24 per cent of the world’s insecticides, according to the World Wildlife Federation. These insecticides are extremely toxic, causing cancer and birth defects. About 70% of all cotton crops in the USA are genetically engineered (GE) with the Bt toxin gene, according to the Council for Biotechnology Information.
Cotton requires 22,000 litres of fresh water to produce 1 kilogram of cotton lint, according to the World Wildlife Federation, making it the most fresh water intensive crop in the world. The flood irrigation method used on cotton lays waste to huge areas of farm land through increased salinity.
Part of the reason why cotton is still such a popular fibre is the huge infrastructure in place that perpetuates it. The agricultural pesticide industry is worth $40-billion U.S. annually, of which 10 per cent goes on cotton crops, according to the FAO and US EPA. In the U.S. alone the cotton industry generates $25-billion U.S. annually and employs 400,000 people, according to the USDA. These numbers mean cotton is big business, and a big business resisting changes to the status quo.