In February 2010, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning to all companies that sold sheets and marketed them as “bamboo sheets”. The FTC claimed that the companies needed to market these sheets as either “bamboo rayon sheets” or “rayon sheets from bamboo”. But why? Why would the FTC single out such a seemingly random product? Something not overly popular (yet)? It seems suspect, until you dig just a little bit deeper.
The first question we should ask is why. Why bamboo sheets? Why something that is eco-friendly (not because of its lack of chemical processes, but because of its use of a highly renewable resource)? Why something with a good thread count for sheets? What would the alternative be?
Clearly the natural alternative to bamboo sheets would be cotton sheets. So what would cause the government to have such a vested interest in cotton sheets? Could it be the cotton from which they are made? Yes.
The United States’ government provide subsidies to cotton growers. What does this mean exactly? It means that the government actually pays cotton farmers to grow cotton – even if they don’t actually need the money. The government doesn’t give subsidies to every cotton grower, just a select few. And generally, they give to those cotton growers that grow cotton en masse, or to those that happen to make millions of dollars a year by growing cotton. And if you’re asking, ”But wait, if they’re making millions of dollars a year, why do they need government subsidies?” then you are very perceptive and exactly right. Those cotton growers don’t need government subsidies, not at all. They’re doing just fine on their own.
It Gets Worse
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse – the US government actually pays Brazil millions of dollars a year so that Brazil doesn’t sue them for providing these subsidies. And why would Brazil want to sue the United States for providing subsidies to cotton growers? Because the United States grows so much more cotton than any other country, and it grows more cotton than there is a demand for. So in essence, US cotton growers (thanks to government subsidies) flood the market with mass amounts of cotton and drive down the price of cotton worldwide. This hurts subsistence-type farmers that are trying to make a small profit off the little cotton they can sell, because suddenly they can only make about half of what they thought they could make off their crop.
And Cotton Hurts the Environment
So, now that we know the FTC doesn’t like the idea of bamboo sheets because it threatens the sales of cotton products, here’s a little more information: cotton is one of the least environmentally friendly crops. Here are just some of the reasons why:
- Cotton renders soil unusable after about seven years because of soil erosion and the salinization of the soil.
- Cotton requires lots of water – to grow enough cotton to make a single cotton t-shirt, you need to use as much water as the average person drinks over three years.
- Cotton requires lots of pesticides – 25% of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton even though it is only grown on 3% of the world’s farmland.
- Cotton requires lots of insecticides – 12% of insecticides in the world are used on cotton.
But other than that, cotton’s great!
By delving a little bit deeper, it becomes obvious why the FTC would attack such a small industry as organic bamboo sheets, and it becomes even more clear that they were wrong about what they said. The Federal Trade Commission is truly bamboozling consumers.