Cary Blake 1, Editor

May 6, 2013

3 Min Read

The U.S. cotton industry sometimes gets a bad rap from uninformed consumers. Some folks believe that the process of growing cotton is a waste of natural resources, including land, since the cotton plant does not produce food.

Nothing is further from the truth.

In fact, one acre of cotton produces about 25-30 gallons of edible cottonseed oil per acre. The average person consumes about 3 pints of cottonseed oil annually. Many consumers are unaware that the food service industry relies heavily on cottonseed oil to serve up helpings of French fries and chicken nuggets.

The cotton plant serves up much more than fiber to make blue jeans, winter coats, and the stuffing inside pill bottles. According to the National Cottonseed Products Association, cottonseed from the cotton boll is converted into food for people, feed for livestock, and even non-food items including furniture padding.

Cellulose from the cotton seed produces a wide range of products from explosives to computer chip boards to flat panel television screens.

On the food side, cottonseed is an important feed for cows. Milk comes from cows which leads to dairy favorites including ice cream and cheese.

To prove that cotton byproducts are important to consumers, Tom Wedegaertner of Cotton Incorporated took his camera phone into a grocery store. He searched every aisle to find at least one item – either food or non-food – which contained a part of the cotton seed.

Wedegaertner snapped photos of a wide range of products. Naturally, the store had cotton balls on the home care aisle; an easy find.

A stroll down the snack aisle found that many potato chips contained cottonseed oil, as do Lorna Doone cookies. Cottonseed oil is added to syrup and lite ice cream to create thickness.

In the meat aisle, some casings for sausage and hot dogs included cottonseed linter. The food seasoning area included cottonseed oil in taco seasoning. Even canned oysters had it.

In the adult beverage aisle, Wedegaertner noted that light beer contains methyl cellulose gum to give beer its infamous foamy head when poured.

Oddly enough, Wedegaertner says there were no oils in the baking aisle with cottonseed oil. Crisco oil for many years contained cottonseed oil. Now, soybean oil takes its place. Then he examined the back label of a store-brand vegetable shortening. Voilà – the label said ‘contains ccottonseed oil.’

A stroll down the household cleaner aisle produced another find – cleaning wipes for furniture, glass, and babies’ bottoms. Companies wanting a stronger wipe have turned to cottonseed for improved results. Wedegaertner also found cottonseed in shampoo and air filters.

Cotton Incorporated wants to convince people that the cotton production is renewable, ‘green,’ and good for mankind. Wedegaertner’s grocery store trip proved this true.

Cotton is not only the ‘Fabric of our Lives’ as stated over the years in cotton advertising. Cotton is an important source of important food and non-food products for our lives.

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About the Author(s)

Cary Blake 1

Editor, Western Farm Press

Cary Blake, associate editor with Western Farm Press, has 32 years experience as an agricultural journalist. Blake covered Midwest agriculture for 25 years on a statewide farm radio network and through television stories that blanketed the nation.
Blake traveled West in 2003. Today he reports on production agriculture in California and Arizona.
Blake is a native Mississippian, graduate of Mississippi State University, and a former Christmas tree grower.

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