Organic cotton – the question of authenticity
17 Mar 2021
As the fashion industry continues its shift towards a more sustainable footing, organic cotton is becoming an increasingly popular fibre choice. Organic cotton has a plethora of benefits; it’s grown from non-GMO seeds, it eliminates the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and it uses natural farming practices that support healthy soil, increase biodiversity, and reduce the fibre’s water footprint. As such, it has many advantages over conventional GMO cotton, which no longer fits into the industry’s sustainability-conscious landscape.
However, for a garment to be sold as organic, it must of course be organic. As most brands and retailers buy finished garments rather than fibre or fabric, they must rely on organic certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Organic Content Standard (OCS). Both certifications require complete chain of custody certification, while GOTS includes environmental and social requirements for fibre processing.
Worldwide, non-organic cotton is still the norm, and in some major cotton-producing countries, up to 95% of cotton is genetically modified, with the use of toxic and synthetic chemicals widespread. This makes accidental contamination a very real issue. There are other issues too. With demand outstripping supply and organic cotton traditionally commanding higher prices, there can be an incentive to substitute non-organic for organic fibres or mix the two together.
Since the difference isn’t visible, testing is the only way to know whether a switch has happened. Verifying the organic status of garments also protects brands, retailers, or sellers from potential reputation damage when making invalid organic claims.
A new era of testing
Testing by a laboratory, on both raw materials and finished garments, is thus an important aspect of certification.
In 2019, the ISO/IWA 32:2019 “Screening of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in cotton and textiles” was developed by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA), and Textile Exchange as a widely accepted testing method for GMO detection in cottonseed, leaf, cotton fibre and cotton fibre-derived materials.
Eurofins is one of the few labs that can test all the chemical parameters of GOTS as well as GMOs according to ISO/IWA 32:2019. On top of state-of-the-art GMO technology and knowledge, around 200 pesticides and 250 toxic substances will be screened to ensure the cotton is farmed in eco-friendly practice.
What it means for the fashion industry
Occasional headlines of invalid organic cotton claims or in some serious cases organic cotton fraud underscore the need for verification and the importance of robust processes throughout the supply chain. Organic farming is as much a process as an end product and one that is infinitely kinder to people and planet. Transparency protects brands, it protects consumers and, ultimately, the farmers.
On 15 April, Eurofins will be hosting a one-hour webinar where a GMO testing expert and a garment testing expert will walk you through information about organic cotton testing and share their insights from their experience supporting different customers in assessing their organic cotton products. Whether you are an established retailer, a new brand, designer, online store selling organic cotton, or you want to explore using organic cotton, we warmly welcome you to join us. Save your seat now: attendee.gotowebinar.com