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USDA Researchers Test System to Track U.S. Cotton Products

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
February 23, 2004

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23--The Agricultural Research Service and a California-based corporation will work together to develop a tagging system that will be used to trace U.S.-sourced cotton and textile components through rigorous manufacturing processes.

The tagging system would involve embedding into cotton fibers hidden information that would allow officials using hand-held devices to authenticate a cotton textile's U.S. source. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief in-house scientific research agency.

ARS officials have signed a cooperative research and development agreement with Applied DNA Sciences, Inc., of Los Angeles, Calif. The company develops DNA-embedded technologies to protect property from counterfeiting and fraud. The cooperators plan to test and develop these technologies to effectively identify cotton yarns. The company will work with scientists at the ARS Cotton Quality Research Station at Clemson, S.C.

"Creating a security tag that costs less than 1 cent per pound of cotton is important to the U.S. cotton and textile industries and to Customs agents," said ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling.

Globally, cotton producers and textile mills are connected through an intricate weave of their own. As the world's largest consumer market, the United States is an attractive destination for cotton-containing products. At the same time, U.S.-grown cotton and textiles are often exported to be processed by foreign apparel makers. When these garments are imported back into the United States for sale, some made from U.S. cotton are allowed to re-enter with favorable tariff treatment. But because labels are removed from cotton bales and textiles during apparel manufacture, the origin of the fibers and textiles used in goods is difficult to trace.