Pesticides Dirty Little Secret

Katy Lytal | Ethical Infant

LIKE SO MANY OF YOU GRANOLA GIRLS OUT THERE, for years, I have embraced and celebrated organic foods. You are what you eat, right? Well, it wasn’t until my first little one was on the way that I really started tuning into non-food based exposure to chemicals and pesticides. As mamas, protecting our little ones from chemical exposure really boils down to two factors; what goes in them, and what goes on them. I knew that I was going to nurse exclusively, and that I attempt to do my best in the food department; eating a mostly well-balanced, organic diet. But what about what was going to go on my baby? In prepping for babies arrival, I started to dig deeper into how items that my baby was going to use were made. It is my firm belief that when you know better, you do better. Agreed? Good.

pesticides dirty little secret
pesticides dirty little secret

So, let’s get started by learning a few new words together. Now repeat after me, Aldicarb…..Parathion…..Methamidophos….Acephate….Malathion… No, I am not reading the ingredient label of Pop Rocks candy (although it may not be all together different), I am reading to you a list of the 5 most prevalent pesticides used in cotton farming – three of which the World Health Organization has deemed “Extremely Hazardous or Highly Hazardous”. Let’s continue.

When it comes to pesticides, children are among the most vulnerable. Infants in particular face unique exposure to dangerous chemicals because of how they interact with the world. They crawl on the ground and put things in their mouths. This would include, but certainly not be limited to, their hands, clothing, bedding, toys and pre-chewed gum found at the park (Was that only my kid?). Okay, continuing. sites that, “Pound for pound, they (infants and children) drink two and one-half times more water, eat three to four times more food, and breathe two times more air than adults. Therefore they absorb a higher concentration of pesticides than adults.”

Additionally, because they are growing so rapidly, infants are more susceptible to the effects of pesticide exposure than adults. From birth until early childhood and beyond, our little ones’ developing brains and bodies are in the midst of complex and fragile developmental processes. As noted by The Environmental Justice Foundation (2007), many developmental processes can be irreversibly derailed by pesticide exposure.

EJF research (2007), indicates that children exposed to pesticides either in utero or during other critical periods, face significant health risks including higher incidence of:

Birth defects

Neurodevelopmental delays & cognitive impairment

Childhood brain cancers

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)

Endocrine disruption

In looking into products that were available for my little one, I realized that most of them were made primarily from cotton. Taking this fact into consideration, I decided that cotton was the textile that I needed to focus my attention on. Here’s what I’ve learned:

pesticides dirty little secret
pesticides dirty little secret

Conventionally grown cotton occupies only 3% of the world's farmland, but uses 25% of the world's chemical pesticides (HAE Now, 3013). Yes, cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop due to its heavy use of pesticides. It’s terrifying to think that Aldicarb, cotton's second most used insecticide, is lethal to both humans and animals. A single drop of this pesticide, absorbed through the skin can kill an adult. Aldicarb is commonly used in cotton production in 25 countries world wide, including the U.S.

Moreover, many of the top 10 most commonly used pesticides in cotton farming, particularly those that are petroleum based, can be found in clothing, EVEN AFTER WASHING! In all honesty, I was horrified by all of the information that I was finding, regarding the dangers of conventionally grown cotton. The more I read and the more I learned, the more I was ready to just crank up the heat in my home and let my little one lay around in the buff. They’d be safer, and cute. I promise though, none of this is at all intended to scare you into creating a nudist colony. Remember, when you know better, you do better. Take a big deep breath. I promise good news is on the way.

But, before we get to the good news, here is a bit more that you might want to know about conventionally grown cotton. For the sake of time, I’ll just give you a few of the highlights, or lowlights, as they happen to be. According to both the EFJ and the Pesticide Action Network of North America:

  • 65% of conventional cotton production ends up in our food chain directly through food oils or indirectly through the milk and meats of animals feeding on cottonseed meal and cotton gin by-products.
  • The byproducts and leftovers from the ginning process consist of cottonseed, stalk, leaves, burrs, twigs, dirt and everything else that is not used in cotton textile production. Byproducts are frequently sold to food companies to undergo further processing to create cottonseed oil, additional additives and fillers in processed foods for livestock feed, and soil compost mix.
  • Cottonseed meal is routinely fed to animals for dairy and meat production.
  • Leftover cotton cellulose fibers that are too short to be spun into textiles are used as food additives. Cellulose is added to a wide range of foods as a thickening and stabilizing agent.
  • Cellulose, which is basically a plastic has migrated into numerous foods including cheese, cream, milk powder, flavored milks, ice cream, sherbet, whey products, processed fruits, cooked vegetables, canned beans, pre-cooked pastas, pre-cooked rice products, vinegars, mustard, soups, cider, salads, yeast, seasonings, sweeteners, soybean products, bakery items, breakfast cereals including rolled oats, sports drinks, and dietetic foods as a non-caloric filler.

Ok, are you thoroughly freaked out now? Me too. But I did tell you that good news was on its way. Here it goes.

pesticides dirty little secret
pesticides dirty little secret

Let’s get back to the really important part – our little ones. Knowing what we now know, how can we protect them and ensure that the products that we put on them are not causing them harm? The answer is to shop organic. Thankfully, numerous companies, organizations, and individuals have begun to call for a stop to dangerous farming and production practices. There is a movement to return to safe and sustainable cotton. No, organic textiles are not just the next groovy thing for granola lovers to gravitate to; they are a matter of health and safety for us all. Our personal choice to support organic agriculture is critical.

The dangers to human and environmental health that exist with conventionally grown cotton are not present with organically grown cotton. It’s true, finding organic items for your little one might take a bit of extra searching on the Internet, and putting in requests with your local shops, but it’s worth it. Protecting our little ones can seem like one of life’s greatest struggles, but it can also be one of life’s greatest joys. Personally, I’ve decided to ditch the dread and focus on the good that I can do for my precious little people. I hope that you will join me. Remember, our shopping choices affect the cotton industry by increasing grower and manufacturer demand for pure, safe, organic products. Together, as a community of conscientious mamas, we can set an example by choosing certified organic products for our food, clothing, and other cotton textile needs. The next time you are shopping for clothing, bedding, or personal care products, I hope that you can think back to this article. When we know better, we do better. When it comes to cotton, a wise choice is to shop certified organic for your family's health and for the protection of our planet.

In our next installment of the blog, we will discuss priority setting. We’ll talk about making critical mama decisions, learn how to evaluate products based on their relationship to our babies, and find out what “The Big 3” are.


Katy Lytal

ethical infant
ethical infant

Katy Lytal is a Mompreneur, and Co-founder of Ethical Infant: Organic, Fair Trade, Vegan Fashion for Infants. She's inspired by thoughtful, crunchy living. "I adore every minute with my little loves. I truly believe that joy and health go hand in had. Most of the time I try not to drive my hubby crazy with crafts, creations, and chaos- he's a good sport." Follow Katy on Twitter.


EJF, 2007, The Deadly Chemicals in Cotton, Environmental Justice Foundation in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network UK, London, UK

www.unif.comUnited Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI)