Majority of ‘high-quality' cotton made of cheap cotton, tests show

A company created a process that uses DNA to tag and track cotton.

It’s an open secret that a lot of expensive shirts and bed sheets labeled as 100 percent Pima or Egyptian cotton really aren’t. Channel 2 Action News traveled to New York where a company is using DNA to make certain you’re getting what you pay for.

“The higher the count usually the better the sheet. But it doesn’t always work out that way because sometimes they’re not as soft as you would like them to be,” said Jan, a shopper.

“It’s like sleeping on a rough texture. And it’s not cool because you spend a good amount of money for what you expect is going to be high quality,” said shopper Alex Cook.

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Applied DNA Sciences in Stony Brook, New York, tested more than one hundred products labeled as 100 percent Pima cotton last year and found 83 percent were made entirely or partially of another type of cotton.

The company created the SigNature T process, which uses DNA to tag and track cotton to make sure you really get what you pay for.

“To the cotton gin and from the gin to the spinner to the weaver, the dyer, until it’s cut and sewn and becomes a garment or a home textile,” said Applied DNA Sciences chairman, president and CEO James Hayward.

Hayward said the process starts at the cotton gin, where a mist of water containing a small amount of the company’s DNA is sprayed on the cotton.

The DNA functions like a bar code inside the product.  As the cotton travels to different countries around the world where it’s turned into yarn, fabric and finally a finished product, it’s tested every step of the way in the company’s labs.

“So I’m going to take a pair of sterilized tweezers and carefully pull a single fiber,” said Applied DNA Sciences Forensics director Ila Lansky.  She showed us how they prepare and test samples to make sure the cotton still contains the same DNA.

In addition to ensuring the quality of the cotton, the technology also gives consumers peace of mind that no child labor or any other unethical practices were used.

It also helps shoppers buy American.

“So what we’re able to do in effect is prove American origins, prove that a product was grown in America,” said Hayward.

Applied DNA Sciences vice president of Textile Sales MeiLin Wan says the brand of DNA tagged products is called PimaCott.

“You’ll be able to go to a major retail store in the coming year and actually see PimaCott in the store,” said Wan.

Just like the farm to table movement in restaurants, you’ll be able to know the exact farm where the cotton was grown.  “I think that would be awesome. Yeah, I think that’s a good fix for the problem,” said Cook.

The DNA technology has other applications.

Applied DNA Sciences said that in Europe, it’s being used at ATM’s. If there’s a robbery, a DNA mist is released onto the cash and the thief, tying both to the crime.