Roundup: The birds and bees

A friend and I were discussing the motivation of consumers (and manufacturers) to consume eco friendly apparel products. Were people more motivated to buy eco products because they were concerned about direct impact (chemicals on their skin) or indirect impact (chemicals in the environment)? We were discussing this because we’d each independently thought the answer was indirect impact but then mused we were wrong, that more people cared about direct impact. We hope we are wrong. From Big Cotton:

One of the obstacles for organic cotton has been that consumers have to pay its premium price -up to 30 percent more…”We don’t want to sell eco-products only to ecoheads,” says textile product developer Bill Giebler. “I want to get my mom on board too.” It can be a tough sell even to Gaiam’s aware customer. “She won’t eat a tomato filled with crap but textiles have no direct link to health, so they’re down on her list. Until she has a baby. “Then,” Giebler says, “only organic cotton can touch its newborn skin.”

Maybe you do prioritize more directly, caring about toxins on your skin but hopefully you’ll choose organic textiles because you care more about toxins in the environment. What’s in the environment will end up on you, or impacting your life in dramatic ways, sooner rather than later.

Yesterday, there was one of the most well written and impassioned editorials I’ve ever read in the NYT, describing a report from the Audubon society which has released a shocking new report. Birds are dying in vast numbers. Measuring 20 species, the report says the average decline is 68 percent. Nearly 7 out of 10 birds, gone. These are common birds, not exotics destined to evolve out of the ecosystem anyway (a common counter argument). These are birds like sparrows, meadowlarks and grackles (I know many people won’t consider the loss of grackles a problem). This comes on the heels of recent news reports on the dramatic decline of bees. Tens of billions of bees are becoming disoriented, failing to return to their hives. Without bees to pollinate food crops, we are doomed. Please, teach your children not to kill insects -other than flies and cockroaches. At this rate, that’s all that will be left. My husband disparages, I won’t even kill black widows.

Returning to the impact of your economic activity decisions, I read a report in Science News (gated, but I’ll email it upon request) that has sadly, escaped the notice of even eco-stridents. Apparently, unnamed inert ingredients in atrazine and the common herbicide Roundup, clogs the olfactory organs (noses) of fish. Scientists theorize fish are dying in record numbers because they can’t smell their food or predators. Even worse, fish aren’t breeding because they can’t smell their way home to spawn (diminishing the food supplies of bears and birds upstream). I wonder if this is what’s happening to the bees too. Unfortunately, because these unnamed ingredients are inert, meaning “not lethal to untargeted organisms”- they’re not required to be listed on product labels so you won’t even know you’re using them. Or maybe you think Roundup isn’t a big deal, equating the impact as minimal based on the small bottle of spray stuff you buy at Home Depot? You could not be more wrong.

Meet cotton. Big Cotton. While the amount of pesticides applied to cotton have been dramatically and repeatedly exaggerated*, their effect has not been. What people don’t know, is the number one pesticide application to cotton is Roundup. Number one. Roundup is the most used pesticide of all time, period. Maybe you’d think that Roundup would kill cotton but no. 80% of cotton seeds (in the US) have been genetically modified to tolerate Roundup, so called “Roundup Ready“. Now the specter of genetically modified foods -yes foods- raises its ugly head. You also eat cotton! If you eat meat, you eat more of it than others because cattle and food animals are fed cotton by products. Nearly everyone who eats processed foods consumes cotton in the form of oils.

You would think that increases in organic cotton production would be an answer to these myriad problems but now it boils down to politcs. The biggest barrier to increases of organic cotton production are the artificial price supports paid to cotton farmers. I could write a book about this but fortunately someone else already has. Again from Big Cotton (required reading!):

No legal plant on earth has killed more people by virtue of the acrimony and avarice it provokes than cotton. In the American South, cotton production enslaved generations of Africans, and then ignited the American Civil War, which sent more American men to their deaths than all other wars combined. Thousands of orphaned English children in nineteenth century Manchester worked in squalid, filthy textile factories manufacturing cotton into cloth. In the twentieth century, cotton cultivated a lethal environment by being one of the world’s more persistent and heaviest users of toxic pesticides. Cotton, too, has been responsible for economic disasters as rivers are diverted to irrigate cotton crops and vast expanses of fauna and flora are replaced by cotton fields.

Briefly, US tax payers are subsidizing traditional cotton farming. Regardless of the world wide price of cotton (currently about 50 cents a pound), US cotton farmers get 74 cents a pound, the difference covered by you and me. In other words, just as a vegetarian objects to paying full price at a buffet restaurant because the majority of costs are attributable to the costs of meat, you should object to being forced to subsidize traditional cotton farming that poisons, sickens and kills, birds, bees and fish. Still worse, these artificial subsidies, impinge and prevent development in the “third” world. Marginal textile producers abroad can’t hope to compete with the political and financial might of US tax payers.

In summary, the impact of the affect of the active ingredients in pesticides is what gets the attention when apparently, it’s the non-lethal ingredients that are killing us. Change starts with you. Don’t use Roundup. Vote. Buy organic textiles both for inputs and in finished products as much as you can -wherever they come from. Don’t push manufacture. You are undoing all the good you’re doing by using organic textiles if you’re push manufacturing. At this rate, our children’s children won’t need to tell their kids about the birds and the bees if we won’t be breeding either.

  • Regarding quantities of chemical affects in general, recent research demonstrates that the low dose effect of chemicals and poisons (any chemical agent) are much greater and more dramatic than previously understood -giving (in part) much greater weight to arguments proposed by adherents of homeopathic remedies.

For decades, researchers largely assumed that a poison’s effects increase as the dose rises and diminish as it falls. However, scientists are increasingly documenting unexpected effects—sometimes disproportionately adverse, sometimes beneficial—at extremely low doses of radiation and toxic chemicals.

Many such effects have been overlooked because researchers prematurely stopped probing for biological impacts as soon as they identified dosage levels of a poison that appear benign, says toxicologist Edward J. Calabrese of the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Poisons can have a variety of effects at both high and low doses…Calabrese told Science News, that he has seen the same low dose of a chemical have beneficial effects on one tissue and detrimental effects on another.

He and others worry that if researchers don’t begin regularly probing the effects of these agents at very low doses, scientists will continue to miss important health impacts—both bad and good—of pollutants, drugs, and other agents.

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  1. Jess says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the disappearance of the bees and since I do a lot of gardening and I was wondering how I could get more bees into my garden. I found a lot of info on solitary bees and how we can build environments (drilling holes in logs) that help them and also how bumble bees do a much better job at pollination than domesticated bees. Also I read that here in Alabama the bee population is doing fine.

  2. Alison Cummins says:

    Oh, definitely, people think organic is good because it’s non-toxic for them. Personally, what’s toxic for me is the least of my worries. I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding, or even growing. I’m healthy enough.

    I’m a vegetarian, not because I think it’s healthier for me but because I think the meat I can buy in stores is a poor use of limited land, and because I cannot participate in the way animals are raised for food. But I don’t know a lot of other people who take that perspective. It’s almost always about what they think is better for them in the short term.

    I’m pretty cynical though. Really the best thing I could do for the planet right now would be to jump off a cliff along with my little (non-vegetarian) dogs and stop consuming entirely. But I don’t. And here I am posting hypocritically from an extremely environmentally unfriendly computer.

    I lived in Africa for four years when I was in high school, and I’m on a mailing list for alumni of the school I attended. Recently the topic of recycling came up: When you live in an isolated village in Africa and every day people come by your door asking to buy your empty powdered-milk tins, is that recycling (good) or poverty (bad)?

    Of course it’s both, and the way we would all know we are good stewards is if we all lived as if we were that poor even if we had the money to do otherwise.

    Next question: if we are all being good non-consuming stewards, voluntarily restricting our clothing to a single two-yard scrap of recycled cloth with which we make do for two years, eating only plant products, living eight to a room to save on heat and giving up private vehicles entirely, what do we do with all that money we save? The answer: nothing. There is no money because the economy has just collapsed.

    (Oh don’t mind me, I’m just having a cynical day. I’m sure there’s a way out of this, I just haven’t been able to find it.)

  3. Alisa Benay says:

    The reach of pesticides is vast. My grandfather was a rice farmer in southern Arkansas. (Arkansas, btw, is the largest producer of rice in the world. If you eat products milled by Riceland Foods, they’re from Arkansas). Grandpa died at 62 of cancer. He lived about 10 years longer than most of his fellow farmers. Pesticide does them all in. Every last one of them. There just aren’t 70 year old farmers.

    It also breeds mosquitoes the size of your palm (I kid you not) that feel like being stabbed with a steak knife when they bite you.

  4. Darby says:

    One word: overwhelming!
    I elaborate. The environmental issues on this planet are so many, and so very complex, that to most people, who are struggling to raise decent human beings while being financially strapped, among all the chaos spewed every day by the media, well, you get the picture. It’s just so hard to process it all. That’s why, I think, people pick and choose their battles. (And as far as pesticides go, I’ll go bang my head against a wall if I see one more of those insipid little yellow “pesticide applied” signs on one of my neighbor’s lawns. They may be buying organic milk for their kids, but they’re letting most likely unlicensed, unknowlegeable people spray who knows what all over the grass that their kids play on. Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

  5. Amy D. says:

    Re: the declining bird population, a possible reason is the overwhelming rise of zero-lot line McMansions. All over Dallas, lovely old houses with large yards are being knocked down to build houses that take up nearly every bit of property (with garages to house their Hummers and SUVs, of course). Kathleen, you might remember those nice estate properties around Inwood and Northwest Hwy; now they’re being bought up, with those acres of woods being demolished and turned into developments. It sickens me. It’s so unnecessary, and so terrible for the environment. No wonder one hardly hears birds anymore! There’s nowhere for them to nest or perch. My friend is an architect, and says most of those houses are being built only to last 20-25 years— an absolute WASTE! Let’s move past disposable houses and disposable clothes and start investing in quality again!

  6. Faye says:

    I’ve been following the bees/Colony Collapse Disorder issue in the news and it really brought home for me how and why these tiny social insects are so important in the foodchain and in the environment.

    I am starting to educate myself more on sustainability, responsible consumption, organic, recyclable materials. I’m reading about how palm oil and the land needed to plant these crops are destroying the last remaining orangutans’ homes in Malaysia and Indonesia.

    I’m not a vegetarian or vegan but I make an effort to shop Whole Foods and buy meats that are raised Certified Humane, not eating veal, fois gras and just being mindful of the footprints my choices are leaving behind me and how they affect the environment.

  7. Debra says:

    We recently repaired a bee keeper suit in our alteration shop. The man brings the suit in every year covered with silver patches of ducktape. The bees can’t get through the tape that covers the rips and tears. We had a discussion about the bee population. He travels all over the US with his bees.
    He said that it is the pesticides.
    I never knew bee keepers “hired out” their bees as they do. Very interesting.

  8. anne says:

    Don’t use Roundup – either use one of those steam cleaning things you can now buy, or when you make a cup of coffee, pour some of the boiling water from your kettle on the plant. Great for those annoying weeds that grow in the cracks between pavers, and really cheap!

    I won’t kill most spiders, but redbacks are definitely fair game (they’re very poisonous).

    I find it hard to believe that Arkansas could produce more rice than anywhere else in the world – it’s only a small state (by Australian standards), and, well, in 2003 China produced over eighteen times as much rice as the USA.
    Australia produced more than a third of the US production, but we had by far the highest yield per hectare of any rice producing country- with no grower subsidies.

  9. Ann K says:

    I recently discovered a great alternative weed killer —-white vinegar! I poured a scant cup at the base of a thorny weed which then took about a day to wither. Best done on a dry day, and would suggest trying it only in areas where you don’t want anything else to grow. I’m going to pour it via a watering can over my gravel parking area.

  10. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    Re: the weeds: I might try one or more of those methods where the nightshade likes to come up, plus I’ll tell my landlord about that because he likes to come around the edges of the fences with Roundup to keep nothing from growing under the fences so he has an easier time mowing the lawn.

    I am sad about the bees :-( and scared of them thar skeeters. :-)

    Re: Alison’s comment: I think it’s not so much live like you’re poor despite how much money you have, I think it’s more like give to those less fortunate to help them, even if it’s only the quarter in your pocket for the homeless guy on the corner.

    I’m not veggie either, but I’ve been buying better stuff at Trader Joe’s, New Seasons, and Wild Oats. Partly because it’s better stuff and easier on the environment; partly because I had to change my diet when I found out I was sensitive and allergic to a long list of foods. (I also read you can only get some certain nutrients from from meats and dairy and also that soy isn’t as good for you as “they” say it is, but this is probably for a different conversation. My sister and I are allergic to all soy except small amounts of soy sauce.)

    I would have to say, about the chemicals in the environment versus chemicals on your skin, for me it’s both because I have to use Bi-o-Kleen or other perfume- and dye-free laundry detergent and only certain dish soaps becuase my skin will itch if I do otherwise. But I also don’t want to hurt our planet.

    Well, when I own my own house (instead of renting), I will not use roundup or any creepy thing like that.

  11. Jasmin says:

    I’m lucky enough to have a lovely bumble bee nest in the garden … a black polythene container (large) with sticks inside seems to have made them a nice home, and they do seem to last year on year – and it helps the garden for sure with pollination, especially in the last wee while whilst other gardeners have been saying to me they have noticed a real drop in their bee count. They certainly don’t seem to be as prolific as they were even ten years ago. If we all do our bit, hopefully we can turn it round.

  12. Ann K says:

    Regarding Lisa’s comment about soy products; definitely not a food which agrees with everyone, but for those who eat it, it’s essential to buy organic as it’s one of the most heavily pesticided crops in America.

  13. Kira says:

    Ah, chemicals. We certainly don’t hear the slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry” anymore, do we?

    I think we will find that it is not one chemical or inert ingredient, but rather how all these 100s to 1000s of chemicals are interacting in our bodies (and other animal bodies).

    And how does one test for this interaction? Oh, boy. Technology is coming on-line to assist, but it is going to be sometime before we are able to figure out which combinations cause problems.

    This year, my nectarine tree produced ONE fruit. I’ve only seen ONE carpenter bee the entire year (and I live in a subtropical environment).

    My neighbor’s tell me they saw a cardinal and were so pleased. Well, it’s probably my cardinal because I spend tons to keep those little birds in food (black sunflower seeds and lots of suet will bring woodpeckers, mockingbirds, jays, cardinals, wrens, sparrows, cowbirds, etc. to your yard … but PLEASE don’t if you have outdoor birds … we are not aiming for cat feeder’s). Very few of my neighbors feed the birds or anything else for that matter.

    We clearcut an area, build large houses with tiny little yards, landscape with non-native plants that cannot sustain the native animals (certainly not any specialists), and despair when our produce (imported from Mexico and South America with unregulated chemical exposure) costs rise.

    We are the architect’s of our own downfall.

    Some of the things I try to do: buy American grown organic as much as possible, use as few chemicals in my yard as possible, recycle, compost food scraps, don’t use any pesticide (even in the house … the spiders take care of those insects problems), and try to charmingly expose my carnivorous family to tasty vegetarian fare.

    We can only do so much on our own, but imagine what we could accomplish with one LOUD collective voice.

    BTW, for people terrified of spider bites, I’ve lived with 100s (over the years) of spiders throughout my house for a decade. I’ve been bitten once. Spider bites are very uncommon. I leave them alone to do what they do best: trap, kill, and eat insects. You can remove their webs a couple times each year to keep the house “clean.”

  14. Tom Willmon says:

    From Lisa Bloodgood, 6/21:
    “I have to use Bi-o-Kleen or other perfume- and dye-free laundry detergent and only certain dish soaps becuase my skin will itch if I do otherwise.

    I too have used Bi-o-Kleen and found it satisfactory. A couple years ago I switched to Oasis because it goes beyond biodegradable: the formulator calls it “biocompatable” – there are no sodium salts in it. It breaks down into plant food. I dump my wash water onto my veg garden, and it thrives.

    Also works brilliantly with cold water, down to 34 deg in my experience.

    Incidentally, the formulator is Art Ludwig, THE source on greywater systems., if that rings your bell.

    central NM

  15. Harmony says:

    Thank you Kathleen for this post. You bring up so many important issues it is hard to know what to respond to.

    To address the issues of… “direct impact vs indirect impact”… as we poison our planet and kill numerous species…eventually what we have viewed as external/indirect impacts, like our environment, will (and are) becoming direct impacts. Cancer rates, asthmas, etc. have been linked to environmental factors. We are still at our infancy of this awareness. I think we (and every other living thing) are the living lab rats of the “better living through chemistry” experiment. I believe we will look back at our clever and quick solutions like Roundup, pesticides like aldicarb, plastic bags/packaging, etc. with horror as these simple solutions have created permanent and difficult problems behind.

    We have spent the last few decades living out the consumer battle cry of “better living through more stuff!”… but not only has this not delivered on the better living promise it has actually slowly been killing the eco-system we all share not to mention making us all feel over-stuffed with full closets and storage units. A MAJOR shift is coming… whether we like it or not. Signs of hope? They are everywhere if you bother to look….but speaking strictly from a fashion standpoint… “green” is suddenly chic and sexy. Yes, a side of me winces at the need for sex to sell everything…even our own survival as a planet and species… but hey, without it there would be no procreation I suppose.

    Your quote mention the high cost of organic fabrics/fashion. When I started in the organic fiber world I wanted organics fabrics to be accessible. I wanted the masses to be able to afford organic clothing…. but my perspective has shifted some. Yes, I still think everyone should be entitled to clean air, water, organic food and clothing… but I have come to believe that the cheap (more stuff) paradigm is at the root of this mess. Cheap = disposable. If you don’t pay very much for an item you don’t value it, care about it.. it becomes disposable. We no longer get things fixed, we buy a new one. Fact is that if you pay more for something you are more likely to treat it with respect. Fast fashion is not sustainable as it currently stands. I think there are clever, thoughtful solutions that are waiting to be found.

    I have heard that 1 in 7 (or 8) people is currently employed in textiles in one way or another (growing, weaving, sewing, designing, etc). Imagine the impact our one (historically toxic and exploitive) industry could have if it were to be “cleaned” up both environmentally and socially. The potential is staggering. I challenge us all to concentrate a little bit more on the legacy we are leaving… pretty (possibly poisonous) landfill? or cherished heirlooms?

    Big Cotton is one of my favorite books… I highly recommend this read. If you are interested in more info about the chemicals used on cotton globally I suggest checking out this (relatively) new report:

    Thanks for bring such thought provoking information to your site….

  16. Kathleen says:

    Btw, for too long, Miracle and I have been intending to write a post (an interview) about Harmony’s business (the above commentor) but we’ve yet to get around to it. Harmony sells fabric! Stuff she’s designed, eco friendly and all that rot. Would someone like to volunteer to write a guest entry on Harmony? Let me know.

  17. Kathleen says:

    I think that the use of pesticides might be a contributing factor to the Autism epidemic.

    The purported autism “epidemic” is something with which I’m intimately familiar. Autism is a spectrum disorder. Inarguably, the “epidemic” is due to better diagnosis. Nearly all of the increase is attributed to the newly diagnosed, people like me. Until 1994, a category to describe high functioning autistics did not exist. I wasn’t diagnosed myself until 1999.

    Most people imagine autistics as mute, banging their heads against a wall all day long. And while I can’t say I don’t -at least figuratively- do that, it’s not true of most, the vast majority of the recently diagnosed; the so called constituent numbers comprising the “epidemic”.

    The exceptional children, severe cases, are a tiny tiny minority. Still, those are the examples they trot out for you on the TV screen. These examples are specifically selected to elicit sympathy to motivate people to open their purse strings and donate to a “cure”. I will, refrain from discussing “cures” because I don’t want to spend the rest of the evening really banging my head against a wall :).

    Since we’re already off topic, the “dirty secret” about autism is that many of you would qualify for a diagnosis; particularly suspect are excellent seamstresses and pattern makers (I personally, wouldn’t hire a pattern maker who wasn’t on the spectrum). You can take the AQ test to and find your autism quotient.

  18. Eddie says:

    as the the NYT article mentions, “the very foundation of our economic interests is self-interest”. further than strictly economic interests, machiavelic philosophy long ago stated that human NATURE is in generally guided by self interest thus it only makes sense that a minority of the population would be more concerned about indirect over direct impacts of choosing organic versus conventional.

    indirect impacts, besides being out of sight/out of mind, are gradual problems which are yet to affect most of the population in a disruptive way. knowing that people have a hard enough time taking action on something that will affect them a couple years down the road, who is to say they will buy organic cotton because some birds they’ve never heard of are dying…

    my hope is that being unconcerned about externalities will become so uncool it will one day be frowned upon as other acceptable social behaviors of the past are today (for example racism). this change will happen from the bottom up (hence some calling it the sustainability revolution). why not the other way around? i wouldnt cross my fingers waiting for true cost economics to catch up among political and economic leaders.

    If anyone is interested in finding out more about the extent of roundup’s damage on the world’s ecosystem i recommend watching “the future of food” (, a movie by Jerry Garcia’s widow.

  19. Tom Willmon says:

    I don’t know what residues are in commercial cotton. Will someone help with that?
    Do they wash out or degrade, say with sunlight exposure on the solar drier (two trees and a rope )
    I agree with the idea that there are harmful residues and prefer to have data.

    (mid) NM

  20. Harmony says:

    As far as residue on conventional cotton goes.. there is little to no evidence of this. However, there are studies about the off-gassing from say new car interiors and flame retardants that are sprayed on things like crib mattresses…

    Here’s a good article if you want to know more about off-gassing

  21. Miracle says:

    The funny thing about all of this is that change, for the masses, is really about accessibility. And accessibility comes through mass retailers. I live in California, where anything organic and healthy is abundant and accessible, yet Trader Joes (which I visit frequently) is a 20 minute drive. Wal Mart, 5 minutes away, Safeway 5 minutes away, and a soon to be Super Mega Humongous Wal Mart is opening up 7 minutes away.

    We say Wal Mart and most people cringe. Yet Wal Mart will be the biggest organic retailer soon and will be the company to lead change. When Sams Club carried organic cotton yoga wear, it sold like hotcakes, and Wal Mart has been in the spotlight, repeatedly, for overseas labor issues. Wal Mart has pledged a commitment to organics, but the downside is that industry analysts think it may cause more problems in a world where demand exceeds supply (from a company that is known to muscle its suppliers into offering lower prices).

    There really are no easy answers, and there is no perfect solution. Sure I can drive 20 minutes to go to Trader Joes, making other errands on the way so that it’s not a complete waste of gas. And I can shop online for organic or sustainable clothing (because that’s a difficult thing to do locally). But the reality is that change for the masses is about accessibility. And accessibility comes through mass retailers.

    And there’s a price to pay for that too…

  22. Another thing you can do: write your congressperson to say you support a massive overhaul of the Farm Bill that encourages overproduction of commodites like cotton through subsidies. The Farm Bill is up for a revision/vote this year, and it usually slides by without notice because people think it only affects a few people in midwestern states. It affects all of us!

    Michael Pollan has written an excellent article about it here:

  23. Eric H says:

    “Peter Melchett of the Soil Association, Britain’s leading organic lobby group, says that environmental concerns, rather than health benefits, are now cited by British consumers as their main justification for buying organic food.”

    From this article in The Economist (may be subscription-only?). Of course, this is talking about food, and it’s easy enough to say you’re doing it for the children when in fact it is for your own consumption, but shouldn’t we accept either motivation when we agree with the answer?

  24. Kathleen says:

    I love FreeCycle. On Freecycle, they’ll give away anything. A lady in my local group is giving away a spider:

    I caught a wolf spider and we have it in a make-shift habitat right now. My kids have been catching bugs from outside and feeding it. I
    wanted to see if anyone wanted to give him a good home. He is alot of fun to watch. My kids have caught plenty of bugs to keep him happy for a while, But whoever wants him is going to need to bring something to take him and his ‘food’ home in. I can only keep him through the weekend otherwise I’ll release him on Monday.

  25. Kevin Carson says:

    One solution to the organic price premium might be for the price of the chemically-produced stuff to reflect its real cost. American courts in the 19th century made huge alterations in the traditional common law of torts, to make it more commercial-friendly. They created high burdens of proof for malicious intent or negligence in cases of pollution and other torts; the old law held tortfeasors automatically liable for any harm they caused, regardless of intent. Then the twentieth century regulatory state created fairly dumbed-down and minimalist regulatory standards that preempted the old civil courts, so that if one’s pollution could squeak by the regulatory standards it was presumptively “legal” even if it caused harm.

    We need to restore legal liability for all harm done, and turn angry juries loose on these people. Then that roundup-ready cotton might not be so damn cheap.

  26. Frustrated in VA says:

    Venting…I am a sucker for new trends, new fabrics. Frustrated by the choices in fashion, I set out to find eco conscience clothing. I hit the
    jackpot on the internet. So many handmade clothing companies using hemp, hemp blends, bambo, soy, recycled, organic. Yes! Our fashion industry future. I had hope for all these talented stitchers. I placed orders and paid the big price tag. You know what I found? I am the greenest fashionista I know. I am still wearing last years clothes. That’s right, 4 months later and I am still waiting on my fall skirts. I have been making do with last years and it’s not half bad. I have have handed over the “green” to the ladies that have either a)not made the clothes or b) declared “I quit” because it’s just too much business (hire help). Somebody please start an eco conscience company and actually do what you
    say you are going to do. I am not underminding the talent and time it takes to create. It’s just disappointing that’s all.

  27. Kathleen says:

    From NPR, more on the affects of the inert (implied to be not injurious to humans) ingredient atrazine that clogs the noses of fish, preventing them from spawning and smelling prey. Apparently, it’s also killing frogs.

    All over the world, frog populations are declining because of diseases and the destruction of wetlands. A new study suggests another reason for the drop: a cascade of environmental changes set off by farmers who spray crops with the weed killer atrazine.

  28. Paul says:

    The number 1 herbicide applied to soybeans is also Roundup. Since the new varieties of soybeans are resistant to the effects of Roundup ( a systemic poison); bred specifically to resist being killed by Roundup what is left in the harvested crop?
    Believe it or not, there has not been any published research that I am aware of that even looks at what may be in the soybeans treated with Roundup. I was considering a research project at UT School of Public Health a few years ago and could not generate any interest in looking at this. When I did a literature search I could find nothing published.
    I am sure Monsanto has looked at this but they have not published anything so it makes me wonder if there is a problem lurking in the harvested soybeans.

  29. Victoria Ranua says:

    I live in corn and soybean country. Nearly all of it is “Round-up Ready” corn and soybeans. These, like cotton are highly subsidized. Our system of subsidizing some crops and not others influences land use. Farmers like the idea of a steady income, so I can not blame the farmers for their crop choice, but I will blame the government. The corn is field corn, not sweet corn. Field corn is NOT palatable to people. It’s fed to cows who never naturally would eat corn and have a hard time digesting it. If not fed to livestock this corn and soybeans is processed into “value-added” convenience foods (soda, Twinkies, Cheetohs, etc.) They might be “good for the economy” but not much else. Why is it cheaper to buy crap food than wholesome foods? Why don’t we subsidized wholesome foods? It’s all politics now. :(

    I recently completed a floral and faunal survey. It might sound like, “Well, duh!” but people need to see numbers sometimes to understand the obvious. The 40 acres survey units with ALL corn or soybeans had 2 or less animals breeding, and less the 13 plants (mostly non-native weeds). When you added just little bit of habitat, like a tree or wet spot that was plowed around the number jumped to 8 animals or more, and 20-40 plants. A 40 acre grid that was all natural had 30-50 animals breeding and 80-230 plants.

    “A thing that is RIGHT when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic world. It is WRONG when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold.

  30. Seth Meyerink-Griffin says:

    @Frustrated in VA: I used hemp for my ‘sustainable’ junior year collection, and I can understand why companies are going out of business with it (and other organic/sustainable fabrics). The first, and perhaps largest, barrier that I noted was cost. Buying 35 yards of 12oz hemp twill (…of which I still have about 20 yards…) cost me about $12/yard. Conventional denim could be had for $5/yard or less for some very high quality denims through jobbers. Secondly, it was very, very different to work with; the hemp denim had significantly more bias movement (looser weave?) than conventional cotton denim but less inherent stretch on grain, and tended to fray very quickly after cutting. It also had more loft to it; it was *much* thicker than a denim of the same weight, which made certain operations more difficult for me to perform. (I assume that this isn’t a problem at the factory level, that procedures would be developed to compensate.) The third barrier that I noted was the selection of colors and patterns, i.e., nil. Despite the high initial price of the fabric, most fabrics are available in off-white only for orders of less than 500 yards. To me, these seem like fairly large barriers to entry for a small designer creating a line primarily or entirely constructed from hemp.
    That said, I am not yet in business for myself, and I am completely freaked out by the enormous amounts of cash I will need to even get a start. I am merely a newly-minted BFA/fashion design grad.

    On topic: My research indicated that it was more than just pesticide/herbicide use in cotton production that was undesirable. Although I don’t have the hard numbers directly in front of me, my recollection is that organic cotton has a significantly lower per acre yield than ‘normal’ cotton; I think that the number was something like less than a half or a third of the yield. That would indicate to me that if all farmers started producing organic-only cotton, world-wide cotton supplies would drop to between half and a third of the current yield, which (even with the same level of price subsidies) should cause the price of cotton to double or triple. Not only that, but cotton requires tremendous amounts of water to grow, which causes water tables to drop, especially in area that have historically been arid like Texas.

    Despite the enormous cost of the fabric, hemp would seem to be a more ecological substitute. (I suspect that prices may be high primarily due to supply; if more hemp fabrics were being produced, the price *should* be lower.) The fiber per acre yield is between twice and five times that of cotton, minimal pesticides/herbicides are needed, and water consumption during growing is quite low. Hemp staple fibers are significantly longer than cotton (average 8″ vs. up to 2.5″), which I *think* should make the finished fabric stronger by weight. Additionally, hemp grows decently in a wider range of conditions than cotton.
    On the downside, hemp is quite a bit more difficult to turn from raw stalks into finished yarn. Once the stalks have been cut, they need to be retted (dunno if this is the correct term?) and broken before the individual fibers can be extracted (again, terminology?), spun and woven. I have not seen any all-hemp knits, and my experience with using a knitting machine with all-hemp yarn was quite unsatisfactory. Given that all-hemp jersey doesn’t seem to exist (the best I can find is 55/45 hemp/org. cotton), I am currently assuming that it’s not something that works very well.

    I also looked at bamboo. *Most* bamboo is rayon made from bamboo (instead of any other cellulosic material, like sawdust; I’ve heard rumors that the FTC is cracking down on labeling in this regard), which is usually a bad practice. I don’t know if any bamboo is turned into rayon via the Lyocell process, which seems to be environmentally benign due to it being a closed process.

    Personally, I would love to be able to work with hemp as a primary material. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way I can make this an economical choice; my price would end up being so high for raw materials that I’d end up with ‘jeans’ that started at $200 or more and would go way, way up.

    If anyone here has experience with hemp and can offer any additional information, I would really love it. Or, for that matter, any more sustainable materials.

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