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LONDON – The exclusion of manure’s upstream impact from cotton studies means the environmental impact of organic cotton, in terms of emissions and blue water consumption, is being “considerably understated” according to a new research paper commissioned by Apparel Insider. The paper also argues that organic proponents are ignoring the issue of toxicity. “The World Health Organisation states that Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old and a major cause of child malnutrition,” says the paper. “Given the risks of seepage, run-off, and generally poor hygiene associated with the use of manure in organic cotton production, combined with the lack of access to treated water in many emerging nations, the toxicity associated with manure is surely a concern.”

In a 2014 LCA paper by Textile Exchange, referenced by organisations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Soil Association, Kering and Global Fashion Agenda, the upstream impact of manure is not included – it enters burden free. Likewise, with a 2018 research paper commissioned by C&A Foundation based on Madhya Pradesh farmers in India.

In a revelatory new paper on identity cotton standards and fibre ‘scoring’ tools, former World Bank economist and financial analyst, Veronica Bates Kassatly, revisits these LCAs as well as crunching and analysing other sources of data. Her findings raise some alarming questions around the issue of cotton cultivation and the industry shift towards identity cottons.

One of the issues she raises is why the toxicity of chemical pesticides is carefully evaluated in cotton LCAs, yet, “not only is the toxicity of manure not considered in organic LCAs, but the possibility that there could be an impact has never been raised.”

She argues: “We have all heard about the serious environmental impact of leather, and of the need to eat less meat – all because of cows and their methane, their feed-stuffs, and their water. Well manure is also produced by cows, so if it applies to the upstream impact of beef and hide, it likely also applies to manure. By extension then, it also applies to organic cotton, for which manure is both the main fertiliser and the most important input (other than water).

“Yet in the studies mentioned above, the upstream impact of manure is simply not included; it enters burden free.

“We would not accept a conventional LCA arguing that the impact of chemical pesticides and fertilisers need not be evaluated, as they are not included in organic LCAs; and we do consider the upstream impact of cow hides in leather production, despite the fact that hides too, are ‘wastes of another system.'”

The full, 6,000-word paper will appear in the forthcoming edition of Apparel Insider.

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