Global Organic Textile Standard

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The summer after I finished college I worked at a sort of convenience/camp store in beautiful Big Sur, California. It was a wonderful summer but I remember a particular instance with a customer who scoffed at the organic chocolate bar we had displayed on the counter: “First tomatoes and now this.” That remark has stuck with me these many years because it was a fairly common sentiment in 2010. People, even people in liberal hippy California, didn’t necessarily understand the importance of organic tomatoes and organic chocolate and organic everything else.


WHY ORGANIC IS IMPORTANT:

Given the choice organic is better for the health of the consumer, the environment, and the people who grow our food [1].

When it comes to the environment, organic agriculture is important in protecting ecosystem health including water quality, soil health, and biodiversity [2]. Monoculture planting, or conventional agriculture, results in nutrient depletion of the soil; these nutrients must then be added back into the soil for the next planting season via synthetic fertilizers [2]. Storm run-off from farms picks up these synthetic fertilizers which can then end up in streams as accessible nutrients. These nutrients are absorbed by organisms in the water and can result in algal blooms which affect water quality and can cause massive fish die-offs [3]. Nutrient pollutants often enter upstream water sources like creeks and streams then flow into larger bodies of water like lakes, rivers, and bays even sometimes reaching the coastal ocean waters [4]. Decreased biodiversity is another consequence of conventional agriculture. Monoculture planting reduces biodiversity of both plants and animals through habitat destruction. This leads to an ecosystem that is out of balance where plants and animals that grow well with fruits and vegetables are killed off and others that are considered pests adapt and survive [2]. To control these pests synthetic pesticides and herbicides are introduced into the already out of balance ecosystem. Storm run-off can also pick up synthetic pesticides and carry them into nearby streams and creeks. According to the US Geological Survey report, the majority of streams in the US contain pesticides or pesticide residues [1].

In terms of human health, these synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can be very dangerous. Nitrates are a form of nitrogen that is easily absorbed by plants thus they are a substantial component of most fertilizers [5]. However in humans, high levels of nitrates lower the ability of red blood cells to carry and deliver oxygen [5]. Infants who ingest high levels of nitrates can become very ill and even die [6]. Synthetic nutrients, nitrates, threaten human health because they can soak into ground waters which provide drinking water for millions of Americans; they can also become airborne resulting in nitrogen pollution and causing hazy skies and air quality problems in urban areas across the country [4]. In 2010 a report done by the US Geological Survey found that nitrate levels were too high in 64% of wells in both agricultural and urban areas [6]. Pesticides and nutrients from agricultural processes are not the only problems with conventional farming. Depending on the type of produce and where it is grown, the concentration of pesticides can be very different [1]. We don’t know a lot about the health effects but we know that approximately 29 different pesticides are present in the average adult residing in the United States [1]. Pesticide levels on produce have declined since 1996 when congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act, which states that the levels of pesticides must be safe for children and infants who are at the greatest risk of the negative effects of pesticides [1]. In 2010 a report released by the President’s Cancer Panel wrote a review on the use of pesticides in the US and concluded that many of the pesticides used may contribute to a slew of reproductive disorders including cancers [1].

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning occur each year. And recent studies have shown that using biological fertilizers, instead of synthetic fertilizers, builds organic matter in the soil which has been linked to a decrease in nutrient leeching and an increase in a crop’s ability to withstand or repel insect attack and plant disease [2]. This seems like a better option.


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ORGANIC TEXTILES:

The textile industry is a notoriously bad polluter, only second to oil in terms of the worst industry for the environment. This is one of the many reasons why organic textile processing is so important.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is one of the world’s leading processing standards for textiles made from organic fibers [7]. The Standard defines environmental criteria along the entire supply chain of organic textiles (spinning, knitting weaving, wet processing, manufacturing, and trading) and also requires compliance with social criteria [7]. GOTS does not include certification of farms that produce raw products (like cotton) but the fibers are certified organic based on national or international standards [8].

Criteria to be certified as an organic textile producer covers processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic natural fibers [7]. Specific criteria include but are not limited to these rules: organic fiber must be separated from conventional fiber at all stages and must be properly labeled, all chemicals used to treat fiber must meet criteria on toxicity and biodegradability, critical inputs (toxic heavy metals, formaldehyde, aromatic solvents, functional nanoparticles, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their enzymes) are prohibited, all operators must have an environmental policy including target goals and procedures to minimize waste and discharges, and the waste water from all wet processing units must be treated in a functional waste water treatment plant [8].  

In addition to the stringent requirements for processing, required social criteria are based on norms of the International Labor Organization. These include: freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, working conditions that are safe and hygienic, receiving a living wage, working hours that are not excessive, and working regular hours [8]. Discrimination, harsh or inhuman treatment, forced labor, and child labor are prohibited [8].

The GOTS quality assurance system is based on on-site inspection and certification of the textile processing and trade chain [9]. The GOTS certifier reviews bookkeeping to verify to flow of goods, assesses the processing and storage system, assesses the separation and identification of areas of risk to organic integrity, inspects chemical inputs (dyes, etc.) for compliance with GOTS, inspects waste water and treatment system of wet processors, checks social criteria, and verifies the operator’s risk assessment of contamination and residue testing policy [9].

Operators at all stages have to undergo an on-site annual inspection cycle and must hold a valid certification as prerequisite in order for final products to be labelled as GOTS certified [9]. Processors and manufacturers that receive a GOTS scope certification have demonstrated that they are able to work in compliance with all applicable GOTS criteria [9].

Only textiles produced and certified according to the provisions of the standard can carry the GOTS label [8]. Products that are made with at least 95% certified organic fiber can be labeled ‘Organic’ and products that are made with at least 70% certified organic fiber can be labeled ‘Made with Organic’.

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While this was a very difficult topic to research, partially because of a non-user friendly website (hint hint) all in all I’m pretty impressed with this organization. The importance of organic farming and textile processing was reaffirmed in my heart and mind throughout the process. This organization has committed to an industry that is the second biggest polluter and is slowly but surely making progress. I will continue to make the effort and spend the extra dollar to ensure that my clothes and food are organic. It's worth it, our planet it worth it, you are worth it. 

Soon, the Just Ethical Goods marketplace will be able to link you to GOTS products! You will be able to compare products easily and find the best products for you before continuing onto the retail site for purchase. 

Can't Wait!


REFERENCES

  1. “Pesticides in Produce - Consumer Reports.”Https://Www.consumerreports.org/Cro/produce0515, www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm
  2. Burns, Mikaela. “Organic FAQs.” Organic Farming Research Foundation, 9 Nov. 2017, ofrf.org/organic-faqs
  3. “The Problem.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 10 Mar. 2017, www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/problem
  4. “Where Nutrient Pollution Occurs.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 9 Mar. 2017, www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/where-nutrient-pollution-occurs
  5. “Fertilizer and Plant Food Poisoning.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/health/fertilizers-and-household-plant-foods#symptoms2
  6. “The Effects: Human Health.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 10 Mar. 2017, www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/effects-human-health
  7. “The Standard.” Global Organic Textile Standard, www.global-standard.org/the-standard.html.
  8. “General Description.” Global Organic Textile Standard, www.global-standard.org/the-standard/general-description.html
  9. “How to Become Certified.” Global Organic Textile Standard, www.global-standard.org/certification/how-to-become-certified.html