Photo by span112

Man, it is so not shaping up to be H&M’s year when it comes to doing the green thing. The Swedish fast-fashion purveyor and other leading European retailers and brands, including C&A and Tchibo, have been hawking certified-organic cotton clothing contaminated with genetically modified cotton from India, according to the German edition of the Financial Times, which is crying fraud—well, alleged fraud—because GMOs are verboten in organic standards.

Clothing store, H&M, C&A, organic cotton, organic cotton fraud, Apeda, India, eco-fashion news

Photo by qf8

FRAUD ON A “GIGANTIC SCALE”

Roughly 30 percent of the tested samples contained genetically modified cotton, says Lothar Kruse, a director of Impetus, an independent lab in Bremerhaven, which examined the cotton fabrics in question. The contaminated cotton was traced back to India, which is responsible for more than half of the global supply of organic cotton, with an output of nearly 107,000 tons of fiber in 2009 alone, according to the Organic Exchange.

India supplies more than half of the global supply of organic cotton.

But Sanjay Dave, the head of the Indian agricultural authority, Apeda, told the newspaper that fraud was occurring on a “gigantic scale,” and fines were issued to third-party certification agencies such as EcoCert and Control Union as recently as April 2009.

Organic cotton H&M

Photo by Andreas Tellefsen

WHO’S TO BLAME?

With the pervasiveness of biotech crops around the world, cross-pollination with their organic counterparts is not unheard of. The fault, however, could lie with with the offending brands and their inadequate monitoring of their overseas supply chains. “The fashion chains were not vigilant enough,” Monika Buening of the Federal Consumer Affairs Agency, told the Frankfurter Rundschau, adding that both H&M and C&A need to act tout de suite to minimize the damage.

H&M conceded that GM cotton could have slipped into its organic lines.

A spokeswoman from H&M told AFP that it became aware of the problem last year and conceded that GM cotton could have slipped into the label’s organic collections. C&A, meanwhile, is said to be investigating the issue.

H&M

Photo by tnarik

PR FALLOUT

In an email to Ecouterre, however, a representative from H&M insists that the company has no reason to believe that the organic cotton used in its garments was grown with GM seeds, despite APEDA’s criticism of Control Union’s lax oversight.

H&M says it has no reason to believe the organic cotton used in its garments were grown with GM seeds.

The spokeswoman notes that as a result of APEDA’s statements, Control Union began conducting unannounced audits of all the organic cotton farms it certifies in India. “None of the farms were found to use GM seeds,” she says, “and all farms took the appropriate steps to ensure that GM seeds were not used.”

So is FT fraudulently accusing H&M et. al. of fraud? The plot, as they say, thickens.

+ Ecotextile News

+ H&M’s response

+ Organic Exchange’s response (PDF)

+ Control Union’s response (PDF)