As spelled out in U.S. national organic standards, the use of genetic engineering (GE) is prohibited in organic agricultural practices. Thus, organic farmers growing cotton cannot use GE seed in their production.
However, evidence is mounting that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from GE crops often show up where they were never used. Contamination is a real threat. As long as GE crops are allowed, organic producers, at the very least, are at risk from background levels of GMOS. Cultivation of GE crops on nearby farms can contaminate organic crops via pollen drift, via insects and bees, or via seed contamination.
The truth is that organic agriculture exists in a world where certain crops, like cotton, are becoming dominated by GE production. This has led to questions over who should be liable when GE contaminates an organic crop. It can be argued that this should fall in the domain of the owner of the GE crop, rather than the organic one. However, there are no safeguards in place at this point.
For organic agricultural crops used in making apparel and other fiber-based non-food products, certification to the U.S. National Organic Program indicates to retailers and consumers that genetic engineering has not been allowed in the production stage.
However, to ensure organic integrity, it is critical that the entire supply chain, from farm through the finished products, be controlled. And that leads to the importance of standards covering the processing of organic cotton into apparel and other products.
Such a standard exists. It is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The Organic Trade Association is part of the International Working Group that helped develop GOTS. GOTS provides a standard to which companies can become certified to cover their processing practices for finished organic fiber products.
Today, more than ever, it is important not only to follow national organic standards for crop production to safeguard the organic integrity of a fiber crop like cotton, but also to then become certified to GOTS to ensure that organic integrity is reflected in the finished product.