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New guidelines ensure organic cotton’s integrity

Helping farmers avoid GMO contamination at seed level.

12th May 2021

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Amsterdam

Clothing/​Footwear, Sustainable

The Amsterdam-headquartered Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) has released the Non-GM Cottonseed Production Guidelines, which provide the textile sector with a key tool for safeguarding the integrity of organic cotton at the seed level – the very start of the supply chain.

The guidelines aim to create a standardised industry approach for the production of non-genetically engineered (non-GM) seed marketed to organic cotton growers, and as such improve the integrity of the entire organic cotton value chain from seed to shirt.

Led by OCA, the guidelines have been developed in consultation with sector experts and via field pilots at three Indian seed producers. They are now being made available to producers of non-GM cottonseed who want to implement solid practices to monitor and prevent GMO presence along their seed supply chain. Ultimately, the guidelines are set to help the growing number of Indian organic smallholder farmers by increasing their access to non-GM seed and strengthening the integrity of organic cotton produce for brands and retailers.

Much-needed framework 

Organic regulations guarantee that organic producers take far-reaching steps to avoid GMO contamination from farmers to spinners and to brands. However, in countries where GM cotton dominates the market – like India – accidental GMO contamination at seed level may occur, making it challenging to secure the basic characteristics of the seed required by organic farming regulations and jeopardising the integrity of the broader organic cotton sector.

Responding to this critical need through its Seed and Innovation Programme, OCA is focused on improving non-GM cottonseed availability as an essential first step in working towards setting up organic cottonseed value chains. Through the programme, OCA provides the joint largest investment in cotton cultivars suitable for organic agriculture, as well as interventions on GM screening, the creation of a database of organic cotton farm groups and capacity building for farmers and trainers. By developing the Non-GM Cottonseed Production Guidelines, OCA wants to help seed producers monitor and prevent GMO presence in different contexts and countries all over the world, from early breeding stages up to the final production, processing and packaging of planting seed.

“Each Indian farm group has long been seeking its own remedy for one and the same challenge – procuring reliable non-GM seed for their farmers,” said Vivek Rawal, CEO and director at bioRe India. “OCA’s Seed Assurance Programme significantly reduces the risk of contamination in seed lots marketed to farm groups and limits the need for repeated GMO sampling and testing by farm groups.”

“OCA is very grateful for the input and feedback from technical experts and Indian seed producers who contributed to developing these guidelines,” added OCA’s programme officer, Mathilde Tournebize. “We have already started rolling out the implementation of the guidelines in India, starting with Partech Seeds in Ahmadabad, Gujarat. By verifying Partech’s compliance to these guidelines using second-party verification audits at the end of 2021, the company will be able to differentiate itself in the marketplace, while its clients will feel more confident to source reliable non-GM seed to grow their organic cotton with.”

Partech Seeds has established a long term partnership with OCA and is a leading partner invested in producing seed for the Indian organic cotton sector. Private Limited, commented on the collaboration with:

“We have been working in this sector for several years with most major farm groups under OCA’s Farm Programme,” added Snehal Doshi, director of Partech Seeds. “Adopting the guidelines has helped us consolidate our efforts and streamline our systems. It comes at a time when the demand for non-GM cotton seeds has increased significantly and there is a shortage of quality seeds on the market. We aim to strengthen our process in a cost-efficient manner through the guidelines and cater to this increased demand.”

The Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) is a multi-stakeholder organisation dedicated to organic cotton. Since its establishment in 2016, with founding partners Laudes Foundation, H&M, Kering, Eileen Fisher, Textile Exchange, Tchibo, Inditex and C&A, OCA has been committed to convening the sector around a common agenda and using collective investments to act as a catalyst for change.

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