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This week's Book of the Week feature, produced by Chelsea Green Publishing, is Fibershed, by Rebecca Burgess.
The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from the publisher.
What do clothes have to do with agriculture? The simple answer to this question is: a lot. On average, over 80 percent of the cotton grown in the United States annually is genetically modified to withstand the use of a range of herbicides and pesticides, and less than 1 percent is certified organic. And while two-thirds of Americans support GMO labeling for their food, few understand the role GMOs play in their clothing. In fact, we have yet to broach any largescale public discussion of how GMO agriculture as a whole is impacting the health and diversity of our landscapes, rural economies, and personal health.
Due to the omission of these larger conversations we’ve largely left the genetic engineering of fibers out of the land-use ethics debate altogether, and as a result there is little to no transparency offered on garment hangtags enabling us to determine if our clothing is genetically modified or not. Unless we are searching out and purchasing Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified garments. As a result of the large gap between our knowledge of how clothing is made and where the ingredients are sourced from, when we make decisions as a consumer on what to buy, we are largely making them blindly.
Consider this, for example: American-made wool garments are rare despite the United States being the fifth largest wool-producing nation in the world. Almost all of our wool socks and suits are made in Australia, New Zealand, and China. Beyond that, over 70 percent of the fibers we wear originate from fossil carbon, and almost every garment is colored with dyes that are sourced from fossil carbon. Plastic microfibers that are introduced into rivers, streams, and oceans as a result of the washing of synthetic clothing are contaminating the marine food web as well as our drinking water. Significant concentrations of fiber lint have been found in the deepest ocean habitats with yet-to-be-determined consequences. Working conditions for textile employees are notoriously challenging, and less than 1 percent of clothing sold in the United States is Fair Trade Certified.
About the Author:
Rebecca Burgess, M.ed, is the executive director of Fibershed, chair of the board for Carbon Cycle Institute, and the author of Harvesting Color. She is a vocationally trained weaver and natural dyer. She has over a decade of experience writing and implementing hands-on curricula that focus on the intersection of restoration ecology and fiber systems. Burgess has built an extensive network of farmers and artisans in the Northern California Fibershed to pilot an innovative fiber systems model at the community scale.
Titles of Similar Interest:
- The Naturally Clean Home, by Karyn Siegel-Maier
- Homemade for Sale, by Lisa Kivirist & John Ivanko
- The Soapmaker's Companion, by Susan Miller Cavitch