The Pesticides You Might Be Wearing Every Day

To meet the high level of demand for cotton, many of the world’s cotton crops are being chemically treated.
May 29, 2015·
Kelly Bryant is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer covering fashion, pop culture, and parenting for a variety of national publications.

In the world of textiles, cotton has long been highly regarded by the masses. After all, it comes from the ground, not like that synthetic business of polyester or rayon. But as fast fashion grows and clothing production increases, the demand for cotton has reached such an exorbitant level that farmers are chemically treating crops by the acre in an effort to keep up.

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In this clip, fashion documentary The True Cost visits the High Plains of Texas, where 3.6 million acres of cotton reside, investigating the effects these chemicals have on the plants, the land, and the surrounding community, most of which is still largely unknown.

LaRhea Pepper, managing director of Textile Exchange in Lubbock, Texas, explains that in the past 10 years, 80 percent of the region’s crops have become genetically modified.

“Most of it is Roundup Ready, meaning that instead of the farmers spot-spraying weeds occasionally in their field or hiring laborers to walk the field and eliminate the weeds, now they’re spraying whole fields,” she says.

Pepper says that although the sales pitch for Roundup promotes reducing the number of pesticides and chemicals that are treating the cotton, that’s not the case in her neck of the woods.

“We are spraying millions and millions of acres and dollars of Roundup across the entire South Plains,” she says. “What kind of impact is that having on our soil with residuals that are left at the microbacterial level? What kind of impact is that having on the people in our communities? Where’s the cost on that?”

Carl Pepper, an organic cotton farmer, is also concerned about the bigger-picture outcome for neighboring land that is being covered with the weed killer.

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“What you’ve created is this general practice of we treat millions of acres the same,” he says. “We put a dose of chemical on it all, and that’s when you get these big ecological effects that nobody has a grasp of what’s really happening. Nature tends to heal itself in small pockets, but when you get this big, broad approach, we really don’t know what’s going on.”

For more on farming practices and how it’s affecting conventional cotton, watch The True Cost, available internationally on May 29.