Monthly Archives: February 2011

Organic Wool: a Sustainable, Healthy Choice for Baby Clothes

All of the wool garments we carry at Little Spruce Organics are certified organic.  We have done a great deal of research to find suppliers that adhere to the highest standards of organic wool production.  In this article we explain why.

Many consumers have a pretty good understanding of some of the benefits of organic cotton clothing.  If you have already read our previous blog post or visited our online store, you probably have an even better understanding of why organic cotton garments are especially wonderful for babies.  But have you ever considered the benefits of organic wool for your baby?

Although many sheep farmers are making the switch to organic due to the increasing demand for organic wool, organic certification for wool production is unfortunately far more involved and more difficult for producers than certification for organic cotton.  This is primarily due to the the fact that wool comes from an animal, so to be certified organic, every stage of its production must be under strict control- from the food the animal consumes to the quality of life of the animals, methods of pest control, dealing with overgrazing, and finally, the various stages of the fiber processing once the wool is removed from the sheep.

So if organic wool production is so involved and challenging for producers to implement, and if regular wool is already a sustainable choice, why go the extra mile and seek out organic wool?

It is absolutely true that wool is a sustainable product- perhaps the most sustainable product available for the production of textiles.  Most sheep live long and happy lives, grazing and bounding about fields of green and doing whatever else sheep do… peacefully going about their business until that dreaded day once a year when their lovely wool is shorn off and they are left shivering, naked, and slightly confused until their cozy wool coat grows back.  This makes wool is a wonderful and very sustainable resource because it replaces itself naturally without destroying any element of nature.

A few important issues are too often forgotten, however: first, the quality of life of those sheep that gleefully bound around in their woolly coats prior to shearing day; and secondly, the actual processing of the fiber that eventually becomes a wool garment.  These are also the two main issues involved in the standards that must be met for wool to be certified organic.

For wool to be certified organic in the US, it must meet strict federal standards for organic livestock production.  The Organic Trade Association lists the following standards that must be followed:

  1. The sheep must be fed with certified organic feed and forage;
  2. The use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering are prohibited;
  3. The use of synthetic pesticides (internal, external and on pastures) is prohibited; and
  4. Producers must implement good cultural and management practices to encourage healthy lives of the animals.

I now digress ever so slightly as I focus specifically on one of the standards mentioned above- that of external synthetic pesticides.  This is something that was particularly disturbing for me during my research on the wool industry, having grown up surrounded by animals, many of whom were the larger, furry or woolly hoofed type…

During the traditional and conventional production of wool, there exists a practice known as “sheep dip.”  Perhaps my love for animals runs too deep, but the mere image of a sheep being unwillingly “dipped” in a chemical bath is enough to keep me purchasing only organic wool for my baby.

This “dip” for sheep is actually a bath of parasiticides (insecticides) that the sheep are dipped into in to control external parasites such as ticks, lice, blowflies, and mites.  In addition to being a less than kind practice for the animals, the dip leaves a pesticide residue that remains on the wool for many months following the treatment.  It only makes sense to conclude that chemical residue left on wool means that the final product touching your baby’s skin is a far cry from natural.  Both human health and the health of the earth suffer from sheep dipping, as the pesticides break down on the sheep’s skin and are released into the environment.

There simply must be a kinder, gentler way to control these pests.  And, as in most organic solutions to conventional agricultural practices, indeed there is.   The organic solution is known as integrated pest management, which, when used in organic farming practices, is essentially the alternative practice of controlling pests without relying on chemical pesticides or genetically modified crops while considering factors such as animal welfare, the environment, and human health and safety.

Just to clarify, during the production of certified organic wool, sheep are not dipped in anything.  I’ll take my sheep undipped, thank you very much!

Overgrazing is another huge issue that is common during conventional livestock production, so for wool production to be certified organic, producers are also required to “ensure that they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which the animals graze,” as stated by the OTA. This is a very important practice for the health of the land and obviously for the overall well-being of the sheep.  Happy, healthy flocks of sheep result in softer, nicer, and more pure and natural wool for your baby to ultimately wear.

The bottom line is this:  organic wool is a better, healthier choice for your new baby.  If a sheep consumes an entirely organic diet, is never dipped in chemicals, and the fiber is later processed without the use of chemicals (which is an entirely new discussion that I will write about on a later date!), you as a parent no longer have to worry about any chemical residue left on the wool that touches your baby’s skin.

And that is why at Little Spruce Organics, we carry only the best organic wool for your baby that comes from the happiest, healthiest, and most importantly-undipped sheep!

References

Organic Trade Association.  “Wool Fact Sheet.”  2005.  http://www.ota.com/organic/woolfactsheet.html

Organic Trade Association.  “Wool and the Environment.”  2005.  http://www.ota.com/wool_environment.html

Queensland Government Website.  “Sheep Parasites: Integrated Pest Management to Control Blowflies and Lice.”   http://www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/sheep/5010.html

Barbercheck, Mary E.  “Introduction to Integrated Pest Management in Organic Farming Systems.”  Penn State University.   March 2010.  http://www.extension.org/article/19916

Photo credit: photo by Bethany Grosser

Organic Cotton: The Benefits

All of the cotton garments in our store are made from organic cotton.  We do this because we know how important it is, and we want to share that with you.

Did you know….

  • Conventional cotton production uses aldicarb, parathion, & melthamidopho– three of the most dangerous chemicals known to human health.
  • Chemical additives such as synthetic resin, petroleum scours, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, formaldehyde are used when producing non-organic cotton garments.

With so much talk about organic these days, it’s important to know the facts.  Organic is simply a healthier choice.   For all of us.  But why, exactly?  And what does organic really mean?  Various definitions exist for the term “organic,” but as we are discussing the cotton industry, we can refer to Meriam-Webster‘s definition, “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.”  Cotton grows from a seed, so just as any crop, it may be grown organically or conventionally.

The truth is, there are so many benefits to organic cotton that it can even be a bit overwhelming.  Supporting the organic cotton industry- wearing it, buying it, even just talking about it to your friends- is really good for all of us.  It’s particularly fabulous when you are caring for your baby and start making all sorts of decisions for them, from the food they eat to the fabric that touches their skin.  Here are a few interesting facts.

It’s good for the earth. Organic cotton production, unlike its “dirty” conventional counterpart, utilizes no synthetic agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.  This reduces the amount of toxic chemicals released into the air, water, and soil.  Organic cotton is grown with crop rotation as opposed to monoculture, and natural fertilizing methods are employed, such as manure, compost, beneficial insects, and mixed cultivation.  These methods increase soil fertility and keep our drinking water clean.   The earth appreciates all of this very much.

It’s good for us. The earth isn’t the only one affected by damaging chemicals released through the conventional production of cotton.  When you mix damaging chemical with the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil in which our food grows, you can imagine the results.   And we’re just talking about the cultivation of the cotton.  What about the rest of the process?  Please, read on.

After the cotton is harvested (a process which, in conventional production, is usually done either by child labor or chemical leaf stripping agents), its fibers must be spun into fabric.  In the non-organic process, a variety of synthetic additives such as spinning oils and sizing agents are used, followed by a multitude of other chemical additives- synthetic resin, petroleum scours, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, formaldehyde- most of which are non-felting, non-creasing, soil-repellant, or flame retardants.    Do we really need all those chemicals added to our clothing to “protect” us from dirt and fire?

The madness doesn’t end there.  Often, additional synthetic chemical fibers are mixed with the natural cotton fibers and further processed before the final article of clothing is sewn.  All of these additives negatively affect the natural characteristics of cotton.  Even more chemicals are later added to protect the garments from fungi and pests.

All right, all right- enough said.  Non-organic cotton is… less than desirable, to say the least.  What about organic cotton?

Erase that frightening mental image of conventional cotton production and imagine this: a little cotton seed (not a genetically modified one, mind you) is planted and grown with a lot of love and a few natural fertilizers like manure and compost.  That seeds becomes a thriving plant which forms a mutually respectful relationship with the soil in which it grows.   It is then hand-picked and its fibers are spun into yarn which is then knit or woven into soft fabric; the only additives, if any, are environmentally friendly ones such as starch or paraffin.   That lovely, natural, non-chemically bleached fabric is sewn into a beautiful garment that ends up in your hands- made with love.

 

It’s especially good for our babies. Do you really want your baby wearing cotton grown with aldicarb, parathion, and melthamidopho-  three of the most dangerous insecticides to human health-  among a plethora of other unpronounceable chemical names?   After learning more about all of the nasty chemicals involved with the production of non-organic cotton, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that there is no chemical residue left on the final product that touches your baby’s soft, sensitive skin.  I certainly want to limit my baby’s exposure to residue from chemicals I can hardly pronounce.

Just a few more reasons to go organic.