The global market for organic cotton products topped US$1bn in 2006, according to the latest research.

The market is expected to triple by the end of 2008, and then double again by 2010, according to a forthcoming report from Berkeley, California-based Organic Exchange (OE). Apparel represented 85% of total market demand during the year.

Organic production, defined as a system of farming without the use of pesticides and fertilisers or genetically modified seeds, resulted in annual sales in 2006 of US$1.1bn - up 85%.

OE said that Wal-Mart, Nike, Coop, Patagonia and Otto were among the five companies using the most organic cotton in 2006. The report, called Organic Exchange Organic Cotton Market Report 2007, projected that the market will increase to $6.8bn by 2010.

"Companies around the world are looking at their product lines and using organic cotton and other organic fibres to step more lightly on the planet," said LaRhea Pepper, OE executive director.

"By supporting organic agriculture, companies eliminate the use of toxic pesticides and fertilisers, reduce the use of water due to soil building practices, and increase the number of beneficial insects and wildlife, all the while protecting the health of farmers and farm workers."

Organic cotton programmes by companies including H&M, Howies, Levi Strauss & Co, Marks & Spencer and Nordstrom were thought to have driven growth, together with entry into the marketplace by retailers like Barney's, Next and Target.

"A fundamental shift in consumer buying patterns in the apparel, home textiles, and personal care markets is happening as significantly more products made from organic cotton and other organic fibres are becoming available to consumers," said Rebecca Calahan Klein, OE programme director and primary author of the report.