From the Ground Up
• Crop pests, weeds and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices, including physical, mechanical and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
• Preference will be given to the use of organic seeds and other planting stock, but a farmer may use non-organic seeds and planting stock under specified conditions.
• The use of genetic engineering (included in excluded methods), ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited.
While other organizations may have their own definitions of what is and isn’t organic, the USDA’s requirements are the minimum necessary for any product to be legally labeled as such. Therefore, other crop certifiers must at least equal the USDA’s rules to be salable in the U.S. However, because cotton is a textile, and not a food crop, making sure the final product stays organic throughout the production process is a little more complex. Though the USDA monitors cotton growth and harvesting, it does not observe the processing, weaving, knitting or any production related to organic cotton until the product is ready for sale, where it picks up surveillance again to enforce accurate labeling laws. Luckily, dozens of independent organic certifiers pick up where the USDA leaves off, ensuring what’s described as organic stays that way from the growth stage to the final apparel piece.
As an example of how monitoring under said independent groups works, Gary Oldham, president of SOS From Texas, Samnorwood, Texas, explained the post-growth monitoring process for his company. After the harvest, SOS From Texas’ cotton is sent to independent gins that must also be certified chemical-contaminant free to be allowed for organic production. As opposed to how a field or crop is approved, which can be a very detailed and extensive process, Oldham said the gin must merely be properly cleaned, then fed a dummy bale of cotton to make sure any lingering contaminants are absorbed. He added that spinning, knitting, finishing and sewing machinery is certified and prepared in much the same way. Said Oldham, “When you get into those production facilities, basically all that’s important there is clean up and segregation.”