Are African Babies Dying So Western Babies Can Wear Organic Cotton?

by , 06/22/10   filed under: Featured, Features, The Big Idea

organic cotton, malaria, eco-fashion, green fashion, sustainable fashion, sustainable style

Photos by Dominic Nahr/Time

As far as provocative accusations go, saying that Baby Omara is dying so Baby George can wear organic is a helluva doozy. More so if you’re doing so in the pages of Time. Despite its placement in the cover story of this week’s European, Asian, and South Pacific editions, however, blink and you’ll miss the throwaway remark, which is overshadowed by swathes of text detailing the utter devastation that malaria has wrought in the Apac district of Uganda.

organic cotton, malaria, eco-fashion, green fashion, sustainable fashion, sustainable style


In Apac, the “most malarial town on earth,” according to Time, nearly a quarter of residents are afflicted with the mosquito-borne parasite. The town’s swampy locale is prime breeding ground for Anopheles funestus, a deadly subspecies of mosquito that bites human flesh tens of thousands of times a year, including 1,586 bites—four a day—that contain malaria. Of the 2,000 to 3,000 malaria patients seen each week by doctors, almost half are under the age of five.

Of the 2,000 to 3,000 malaria patients seen each week, almost half are under the age of five.

Because of pressure from the Belgium-funded National Wetlands Program, draining of malarial swamps is verboten. So is spraying houses with insecticide (in this case, DDT), which cut malaria cases by half in 2008, according to writer Alex Perry.

organic cotton, malaria, eco-fashion, green fashion, sustainable fashion, sustainable style


It’s here that Perry makes the incendiary statement: “Why? Because of objections from Uganda’s organic-cotton farmers, who supply Nike, H&M, and Walmart’s Baby George [sic] line. Chemical-free farming sounds like a great idea in the West, but the reality is that Baby Omara is dying so Baby George can wear organic.”

Whether Perry’s thesis has legs is never explored—or substantiated.

But whether his thesis has legs is never explored—or substantiated. The essay delves into the heart of the malaria crisis, an unsavory mix of lackluster leadership, corrupt officials, insufficient foreign aid, and nonexistent infrastructure.

In other words, the organic-cotton question is left hanging. As are we.

+ “Battling a Scourge” by Alex Perry

+ Time

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6 Responses to “Are African Babies Dying So Western Babies Can Wear Organic Cotton?”

  1. SusannaSchick says:

    Why destroy the soil with pesticides to grow a crop (non-organic cotton) they can’t even sell profitably? US cotton subsidies make it impossible for African farmers to profit selling cotton. With the organic price premium, at least they can feed their children, buy bed nets, as well as other ways to prevent malaria without destroying everything around them.

    Malaria is a scourge even without organic farms. It’s the swamp, not the farming. And clearly DDT is not the answer either. Would you rather buy non-organic cotton grown in Southern California where there is NO water? Or what about cotton from Uzbekistan where every man, woman AND child is forced by the government to pick cotton? Think about the bigger picture before you start this guilt-mongering.

    The cotton industry is a huge mess, and organic African farms are pretty far to the “Good” side of the good vs evil scale of cotton farming. Would you rather those children die of DDT poisoning because they accidentally ingested something they saw in a bottle at home? Or would you rather they starve to death because their parents committed suicide after cotton prices dropped so low they were once again unable to profit, as happens frequently in India?

  2. […] The Un-Cuddly Facts About Organic Cotton: Hipster mommies and daddies everywhere wouldn’t dream about putting their little Emmett/Regina/Asbury in anything other than 100% pure organic cotton, but they may not realize that the kid’s going to have a hell of a complex when he grows up. According to Time magazine, the insecticide restrictions necessitated by the “organic” label are putting babies in Africa at an even higher risk for Malaria, a disease that’s already wreaking havoc on Uganda. Let’s hope the newly-pregnant Stella McCartney avoids this trap….{Ecouterre} […]

  3. anthea says:

    According to Dr. Uday Bhawalkar, an ecologist with thirty years practical experience of dealing with such things, you get more Mosquitos where you get excess nitrates, and the higher the nitrate load, the more dangerous the types of Mosquitos that carry dengue fever etc, so the organic cotton is less likely to be as bad a crops with added synthetic nitrogen. Spraying with pesticides will poison the drinking water.

  4. mark says:

    I am in the organic cotton business, and I produce a product using only dyes to print with which are vegetable based.
    ( It is simply not intellegent to present an opinion about organic farming and maleria…I feel like Jon Steward who is left speechless at the stupidty at this article. Isn’t the world we live in chaotic enough? Maleria exisited long before DDT’s and all the cancer they cause, which is just scientific fact. What is the point of this article??

  5. kgali says:

    Mark you are missing the point. what Perry is trying to highlight is the fact that DTT excarcebates the problem of malaria.This is only scientific to you because you are not affected by it. until you are affected, then you would have something wise to say.

  6. CTSoldier says:

    This article is nonsense, probably paid my Monsanto and other chemical giants to attack organic farming, so they can encroach and continue there campaign of complete food control, poisoning and destruction of our environment using GMO based products. This Malaria debate has had a gargantuan amount of articles and documentaries going back decades and decades way before we had to put the label “organic” on our food and products. Organic is the exception, it should be the rule as in the no so distant past there was no need for the label organic, because food WAS pure and wholesome. But, thanks to Codex Alimentarius you can bet that Africans and the the rest of the world will continue to suffer more and more. Who knows what his point is and Time magazine is worthless. Does anyone know that they released thousands of GMO’d Mosquitos in Australia? Lets get something straight if after all these years of sending aid and all these donations from good Samaritans to help those in need how much of that money do you actually think makes it to those communities? It’s pretty simple they (meaning our government and others) don’t really want to solve these problems of hunger and disease they want to do just enough, to keep most people quiet, so they don’t do any real research into the problem. Go research how much money gets tossed around, follow the money and you find the real problem. There should not be one starving or diseased person on this planet. If you believe in the hoax of scarcity of resources from oil to diamonds to food, then you are just going through this life with blinders on. If you think all this is bad I suggest you pop the bubble you call reality and start researching the real world you live in. All I say is follow the money and the people controlling it and you’ll find out why most of these problems continue to perpetuate.

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