933306 Ethics in organic agriculture

Semester hours
Lecturer (assistant)
Klimek, Milena , Freyer, Bernhard , Iwanov, Georg
Division of Organic Farming (IFÖL)
Offered in
Wintersemester 2017/18
Languages of instruction


In 1991, author and agrarian Wendell Berry wrote: “Eating is an Agricultural Act”. Since then, there have been manifold efforts across the globe to make more transparent and to connect the path from farm to fork. Both production and consumption of organic agriculture is deeply rooted in ethical discussions about what constitutes “the good life” i.e. the moral life. In theory organic producers, processors and consumers are bound by the same ethic, formalized in the IFOAM principles of health, ecology, fairness, and care, but how are these principles put into practice in this path from farm to fork?

This course focuses on the ethics of the broader implications of agriculture, namely after a product has left the farm and been introduced to the consumer in the form of food. With this, we will deal with fundamental questions of human existence in the context of organic agri-food systems, specifically connecting the context of organic and alternative farming to preparation, eating and cooking.

This semester we want to cultivate a space for discussion both within and out of the classroom. Part of students’ assignment is to cook meals in groups around different themes associated with the assigned readings and should be discussed during the meal to prepare for class. Presentation of the discussion results from eating and cooking a meal together are a key part in building such a space.

In exploring the ethical underpinnings of the organic movement(s) we discuss the history and development of the organic principles, but in particular we focus on how actors who help realize organic, sustainable and local eating—i.e. through food coops, grocery owners and managers, restaurant owners and managers, chefs and bakers—balance, adapt, and negotiate their ethical principles and day-to-day business practices.

Throughout this course we seek to ground ethical concepts and theories in the everyday practical decisions of these farm to fork actors. It is important to realize that this includes students of (organic) agriculture/natural resource management, social sciences etc., and the course is therefore also strongly focused upon exploring and challenging our own ethical viewpoints and assumptions. Additionally, the course is in English and will focus on texts and examples of English speaking areas, making for interesting discussions with the Austrian interview examples.

Each student shall individually write a seminar work on the topic “making ethical food choices”. The work should include at least one interview with an actor in the organic agri-food system about their ethical stance in the food system and how this is reflected in their work. This seminar work will be discussed in class, and a written report is due by the end of the semester. A guide to writing the report will be made available on Moodle.

Previous knowledge expected

Some knowledge of organic agriculture is beneficial.
The official language of the course is English but with translation to German when necessary.

Objective (expected results of study and acquired competences)

After completing the lesson, the student will be able to:
•identify values in the organic agri-food chain
•reflect upon the associations between ethical values and practice
•reflect upon his or her own ethical foundations
•challenge assumptions and effectively participate in value-based discussions
•understand the basics of qualitative interviewing methods
You can find more details like the schedule or information about exams on the course-page in BOKUonline.