GMO cotton is a genetically modified cotton created by changing the plant genome to increase production and rentability. It's widely used to make fabrics for fashion.

Many people don't know much about GMO cotton, how it's made, its properties, and its impact. Cotton fiber is often used to create cheap clothing made of conventional cotton fabric.

The main advantage of GMO cotton compared to non-GMO cotton is its very low cost and much higher yield. It can resist harsh weather, weeds, and pests better.

But cotton fabrics made of transgenic cotton aren't environmentally friendly or healthy. Their manufacturing has both health and environmental impacts.

Read on to find out what companies are hiding from you about genetically modified cotton.

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What is GMO cotton?

what is gmo cotton

GMO cotton or Genetically Modified Organism cotton is a transgenic plant developed for the production of cotton worldwide by changing the genome of other cotton species.

GMO cotton is often referred to as GM cotton, GE cotton, or Bt cotton, a genetically modified pest-resistant plant cotton variety. It contains foreign genes designed to combat pests, such as bollworm and budworm caterpillars, including Helicoverpa and Heliothis spp., Pectinophora gossypiella, and Earias spp.

Bt cotton stands for Bacillus thuringiensis cotton, the name of a common soil bacterium whose genes have been inserted in the cotton plant to produce insecticidal proteins and toxins that control pests.

Cotton has one of the worst environmental impacts among natural fibers used for textiles. But it has been used for over 7,000 years to make clothes since it offers numerous advantages for fabric production.

Cotton is still the most widely used natural fiber worldwide and one of the cheapest to produce. And it's the second most used fiber for garment production behind polyester globally.

About half of all textiles in the world are made of cotton. It's the most widespread profitable non-food crop globally. Cotton has a low price because it's mass-produced. And most cotton has been genetically modified to increase productivity, resist pests, and be herbicide tolerant.

What is GMO cotton used for?

gmo cotton uses yarn

GMO cotton is often used in the textile and apparel industry. It makes fibers for fleece, circular knits, coats, sweaters, sportswear, boots, hats, and socks. It's also used in household textiles, outdoor furniture, and industrial materials.

Dying cotton fabrics made from GMO cotton is effortless, fast, and in a variety of long-lasting colors. Cotton fabrics regulate body temperature very well and are perfect in hot weather to keep you cool and fresh.

GMO cotton has increased yield. Its usage is widespread in most cotton-producing countries like the United States, India, China, and Brazil, which are the world's top cotton producers.

Since 2020, 92% of cotton planted in the United States has been genetically engineered, insect-resistant, GMO cotton, or Bt cotton, according to the latest data from the USDA.

Who made GMO cotton?

gmo cotton laboratory engineer

GMO cotton was made first in the United States and tried on fields in 1993. It was then approved for commercial use in 1995 and finally introduced in China in 1997.

GMO cotton was introduced in India in 2002 by a joint venture between American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto and Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co (Mahyco).

A trademark of Monsanto called Bollgard cotton was the first GMO cotton and the first generation of Bt cotton commercialized in 1996 in the United States.

The next generation of Bt cotton called Bollgard 2 was introduced in 2003 and had better action against a wider range of caterpillar pests, due to the production of new toxins such as Cry 1Ac and Cry 2Ab.

TwinLink Plus, WideStrike 3, and Bollgard 3 are the most up-to-date Bt cottons and improve control of several caterpillar pests. There are been developed by BASF SE, Corteva Agriscience, and Bayer respectively.

GMO cotton, just like regular cotton, is harvested from the cotton plant bolls. It's then processed and combed into yarn, a long continuous length of interlocked fibers, used in sewing, weaving, crocheting, knitting, embroidery, ropemaking, and the production of textiles.

What are the benefits of GMO cotton?

gmo cotton advantages caterpillar pest

GMO cotton has many advantages over non-GMO cotton such as its very low cost and much higher yield. It has been manufactured to combat pests better and resist harsh weather and weeds.

And since it already produces toxins from modified genome proteins, genetically engineered cotton has a lower necessity for insecticides, according to recent research on the matter.

Non-GMO cotton production was associated to high environmental, economic, and sanitary costs due to the necessity of large amounts of pesticides before the introduction of GMO cotton.

GMO cotton is considered improved cotton and next-generation cotton as a unique material with many unique properties. It's generally used in the same applications as non-GMO cotton.

GMO cotton fabrics look and feel like regular cotton. They are easy to clean, soft, durable, lightweight, breathable, and absorbent. They are a natural material, bio-based, biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable.

GMO cotton can be dyed easily in brilliant colors. It has a low price because it's mass-produced globally. It's the second most used fiber for garment production.

GMO cotton fabrics are breathable. They can be worn in warm weather and let airflow pass and help cool high body temperatures in hot climates.

GMO cotton can be blended with other synthetic or natural fibers. It lowers the overall cost of garment production and has a long lifespan.

What are the risks of GMO cotton?

gmo cotton risk herbicide

GMO cotton is still a risk to people and the environment. Modified organisms have a large adverse effect on people, the environment, and wildlife.

GMO cotton isn't natural but genetically engineered and hurts nature and its ecosystems. It helps manage pests but is harmful to other species of caterpillars and insects in the process.

Other insects which are not susceptible to GMO cotton added proteins, for example, the plant bug, Lygus hesperus, rise in population and importance relative to other pests in the system.

Lygus hesperus is now considered to be the number one pest of cotton in Arizona based on the proportion of total insecticide sprays targeting this pest.

Recent research suggests that GMO cotton like Bt cotton doesn't benefit farmers. It has little effect on cotton yield. The increase in production is marginal and not valuable for farmers.

And pests and insect populations quickly adapt to GMO cotton or Bt cotton. They become insecticide-resistant over time, as pointed out by recent cotton research, so insecticide usage isn't diminishing but is still required for cotton plant growth.

While GMO cotton can offset the need for insecticide in some cases, it is still harmful to people and the environment. It still requires fertilizers, herbicides, and lots of water to grow.

Environmental impact of GMO cotton

gmo cotton environmental impact

The popularity of GMO cotton is still high, especially in China and the United States. However, it has a disastrous effect on the environment.

GMO cotton has caused an increased awareness of environmental concerns. The environmental movement and subsequently the sustainable fashion trend fight against GMO cotton.

Today, public opinion against polluting fabrics like GMO cotton is at an all-time high. GMO cotton's environmental impact is extensively negative. It has a disastrous impact on people and the planet and is detrimental to ecosystems and nature.

Many toxic substances are used in the manufacturing of GMO cotton fibers. In some Asian countries, regulations concerning environmental protection are not as strict as in western countries.

Since they aren’t handled or disposed of correctly, hazardous chemicals destroy land wildlife, marine life, and local communities.

Cotton production is very chemical-intensive. It requires tons of water, insecticides, herbicides, nitrogen, and phosphorous fertilizers. They pollute nearby environments and have harmful effects on human health and ecosystems.

Cotton farming reduces soil fertility and damages the environment. It contributes heavily to ocean acidification, water pollution and eutrophication, and climate change.

The environmental impact of cotton farming is highly variable. It depends on the country of production, climate, rainfalls, and irrigation methods. But cotton is often grown in water-scarce areas using additional irrigation.

The cotton water footprint is a big issue. New irrigation systems and strategies have to be used to allow farming with the water of natural rainfall.

Sustainable cotton production is possible in many areas of the world with minimal environmental impact by using existing natural water resources, like in organic cotton production.

Sustainable alternatives to GMO cotton

gmo cotton organic alternative

More sustainable and ethical alternatives to GMO cotton fiber exist. Many fashion brands and designers around the world avoid the use of GMO cotton and Bt cotton completely.

Many prefer environmentally friendly organic fibers such as organic cotton and hemp. When certified organic, cotton is grown with little additional water, and no man-made pesticides, or fertilizers.

Organic cotton requires less water than GMO cotton and is grown mostly using rainwater. 80% of all organic cotton is grown with water from rainfalls, which reduces pressure on local water sources.

Organic farming also preserves biodiversity and agricultural cycles. It also values the welfare of farmers and workers. It uses natural insect repellents extracted from plants.

Organic cotton isn't as popular as GMO cotton because it's much more expensive. But the cost of GMO cotton is hidden. Its price doesn't reflect its huge social and environmental costs.

The demand for organic cotton is growing within the fashion industry. More consumers are asking for eco-friendly products made from organic cotton, which is much better for the skin and the planet.

It's time to rethink how we produce and consume clothes. One of the best ways to be more sustainable is to choose eco-friendly and high-quality materials.

Check out some of the best sustainable fashion brands that create fabulous clothes out of organic cotton that protect the environment and your health.

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About the Author: Alex Assoune

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