If H&M’s quick promise to stop destroying unsold clothing appeased you enough to shop its eco-friendly spring line, I have some bad news for you. What you thought was a cute organic cotton outfit may actually be made of genetically modified cotton.

That’s what the German edition of the Financial Times is reporting. For those who, like me, can’t read German, Ecotextile News has the lowdown in English. Apparently, an independent testing lab tried testing some of the fabrics labeled organic cotton from European brands H&M, C&A and Tchibo — to find that 30 percent of the samples contained genetically modified cotton!

How could this lapse occur? The problem’s been traced back to India, which grows nearly half of the world’s organic cotton. According to Ecotextile news, “reports from reliable, trusted organisations and producer groups about fraud within the Indian sector of the organic cotton industry have been common-place,” with third party certification agencies EcoCert and Control Union even getting fined in April 2009 for alleged fraud.

Who’s to blame? The onus falls on the industry as a whole — which “needs to establish firmer rules of governance over organic cotton production” — the third party certifiers, as well as the brands themselves — which “need to invest more in improved supply chain transparency and more thorough testing,” according to Ecotextile News. As of yet, it’s unclear what actions the industry will take, since the brands involved are still investigating the issue:

A spokeswoman for the Swedish clothing chain H&M told news agency AFP that the company became aware of the incident last year and admitted that GM cotton could have made it into H&M‘s organic range. C&A are said to be undertaking a thorough investigation.
Until the problems get cleared up, eco-fashionistas may want to avoid clothing made with organic cotton from India, instead supporting clothing companies like Cottonfield USA that make their clothes from organic cotton grown in the U.S.

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