Teaching Organic ?

An organic gardening programme is set to be rolled out by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board across Irish schools. The problem is that it can’t really be organic. It can however be about growing and considering the earth and our actions. This is a programme that will include my child and yours and I personally am not sure I wish for her to be thought gardening under an organic label based on what I have unearthed.
The question further remains as to whether organic is actually better than ‘ordinary’ or home grown vegetables. The problem is the variance in beliefs of what organic actually is, the fact that legislation makes ordinary foods extremely safe to eat and the fact one can actually use chemicals and non-organic seed, yet still be labelled organic.
The Bord Bia slogan ‘organic – good for nature good for you’ has been ruled against in its using by the ASAI [advertising standards authority of Ireland]. However, the EU has a new ‘organic farming‘ slogan – ‘good for nature good for you’.
Ciaran Cuffe of The Green Party disagrees in commentary below.
update: I recorded this podcast Monday evening 12th July – as a result of the comments and responses to this post.


The following email hit my inbox today:



MAY 2010


Gorilla has just completed all audio post production for Bord Bia’s newly launched organic gardens DVD for primary schools across Ireland.

The DVD is an educational package that shows how pupils and teachers alike can convert their school grounds into organic gardens to grow their own vegetables! The DVD also explains some of the main benefits of eating organic food over processed food and moreover provides excellent opportunities for pupils to bring their learning outside of the classroom! The programme was shot over a 2-year period and includes 3 case studies in Dublin, Kildare and Ardee in Co Louth.

Then I did a bit of reading and found this from page 8 of the teaching resource that comes with the DVD: www.bordbia.ie/aboutgardening/organicgardening/Documents/teachers_resources.pdf

Realise that synthetic fertilisers and pesticides are harmful and should be avoided if possible.

also on pg. 9:

Teachers Notes: Organic horticulture is the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants by following the essential principles of organic agriculture in soil building and conservation, pest management, weed, and disease control, and heritage species preservation.

It is a form of agriculture which excludes the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, plant growth regulators, and genetically modified organisms. Organic gardeners rely on crop rotation, green manure, crop residue and compost to maintain soil productivity and control pests. It is an ideal way to teach children to respect the environment and introduce them and their families to healthy eating.

also the entire document is headed with the logo:

Organic: good for nature, good for you

Looks like someone is trying to convince the wee nippers that if something is organic its great!….it is of course as you know a little more complex than that (e.g. organic food imports etc, etc).

That aside this email had come in 2 days previous:

Bord Bia have just changed all their organic food logos on their website to a leaf, gone are the “organic : good for nature, good for you” logos…….maybe you could ask why the change?

But, you see this email had come two weeks ago:

was sent this…..looks like the misleading Bord Bia campaign cost 1 Million euro half of which was paid by the Irish public…….hardly money well spent

February 2009
Report by Simon Wright, Organic and Fair
…Lorcan Bourke of Bord Bia in Ireland explained how the the Irish Department of Agriculture funded half the campaign, allowing match-funding to obtained from the EU and giving a total budget of 1 million Euros. After consumer research the slogan chosen was ‘ Good For Nature, Good For You’ (see the campaign at www.bordbia.ie/aboutfood/campaigns/Pages/NationalOrganicWeek.aspx ).

from: http://www.organictradeboard.co.uk/news/
(bottom of page)

I had also received an email on May 18th. It was signed by the ASAI and noted that:

Subject: RE: Organic Food Claims

Bord Bia have agreed to withdraw the claim.

But as can be seen from the first page of Bord Bia’s schools education programme [above] it still exists.


I don’t hold issue with anyone who goes green or encourages others to do so, especially at such a young age. I applaud it. But like I have said previous – sometimes ‘organic’ has it’s pros and cons.

I felt/ feel the ‘organic issues raised in this superb shop‘ are still incorrect. Not balanced…. call it what you like – but not right when it seems all things organic are groovy [?].

I have spoke on the logic of growing your own before. That versus the fact that 99.9% [not a researched figure] of farmers do not use fertilisers on their potatoes, although they may not be certified organic…

The point that I make is that encouraging children is fine as long as logic applies. In context, I would rather my child chop an old [rotten looking] sprouting potato in half and plant it in the garden [using no compost] than drive to the garden centre to buy seed potato [possibly imported – from another county even] and organic compost – for organics sake.

In which case, I’d prefer my child, in primary school be thought ‘logic green gardening’ as versus ‘organic’ or not to be thought this subject.

To get a gist of what people believe organic is, I asked the following question[s] on twitter this evening: what do you believe organic means? The responses were as follows:

  • Grown naturally without man made pesticides & fertilisers
  • Grown from non-GM seeds, without use of chemical (man-made) pesticides, fertilizers etc. My take anyway.
  • fairly broadly i take it to mean non gm, and free from artificial fertilizers and pesticides.
  • organic is grown without herbicides, pesticides, fungicides etc. or if meat – no growth hormones on organic feed
  • Grown sustainable without pesticides or herbicides in soil which is free of both substances at least for 8 years. No artificial fertilizer!
  • organic: not reared with, or on, land where artificial fertilisers are used.

I then asked: which is better. Locally produced/ grown veg or organic ? The reponses were as follows:

  • 1. Both. 2. Local. 3. Organic.
  • that depends on how you define better, organics flown half way round the world not great ecologically but Irish bananas prolly not great 🙂
  • locally produced
  • I prioritise fresh produce, which more often than not means local as the time betw farm & shop is shorter, but believe organic is best.

To that I note these forms where one can apply to be able use certain chemicals – yet still be labelled organic.


The numbers of those granted such derogation are not published. The derogations that can be applied for can include the use of non-organic seed and copper sulphate [for example].

In search of a definition of organic…. I went [back] to the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association Website

What Is Organic Food?

Organic food carrying the IOFGA logo has been produced to the highest standards. It is produced according to organic farming principles which are committed to working in harmony with nature rather than against nature. Organic farming works within the natural confines of the farming eco-system to provide you with great tasting food!

In practice organic farming;

  • Avoids the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides
  • Requires the highest standards of animal welfare
  • Does not permit the use of genetically modified organisms
  • Uses less fossil fuel energy per calorie of food produced
  • Protects our biodiversity by maintaining suitable habitats for plants, animals and wildlife
  • Encourages people to buy their food locally and in season

When you see the IOFGA logo on organic food you can guarantee that this product has been inspected and approved to meet the organic standards. Organic farming in Ireland is the one system of farming which is fully certified and regulated and we in IOFGA are proud to see so many high quality products carry our logo.

But the reality is one can apply to use chemicals…. right ? I would also point to the 10 reasons IOFGA give as to why one should buy organic food. I’ll skip straight to point 10

10. Good for nature, Good for you

Which I assume they also are not allowed to say [?]. I also still do not know exactly by definition/ legislation from either sites what organic is.

It seems there is vagueness in what organic actually is [exactly] and more-so to that people’s understanding of. The argument as to whether it’s better to balance the books [so to speak] is [pardon the pun] simply more food for thought. ie. whether it’s better to shop local as versus organic and not necessarily local. There is also a point where from a marketing perspective that organic labelling does sell [see above compost image]. Even the farmers markets in Ireland have their flaws as I discussed in my last post. The question I guess still remains of what methodology is better and also from an educational point the information that is being thought.

Maybe Green Party minister Trevor Sargeant has the right idea….? But then he is wearing a GIY t-shirt. Grow it yourself that is. Not organic. Big difference.

UPDATE: 7th July 2010

The above podcast replaces this one.

Also this Organic leaflet 2010 Food Safety Authority of Ireland seems logic enough. Although still lacking definitions in my opinon.

Bord Bia and the IOFGA have been informed of this post.

UPDATE: 9th July 2010

Got this from Ciaran Cuffe of The Green Party


which is headed with this logo and slogan [see below]. I’m confused – Bord Bia cannot use the same slogan as the EU can a similar slogan… On second look, the EU have used the word ‘farming’ ? Cheeky 😉

I have emailed this to the ASAI [advertising standards authority of Ireland]


17 replies
  1. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:

    A Chara Danny,

    like I said, the point is no to knock one group over another. Far from it. More I hope this will create discussion on the subject.

    That said, in reference to the link you posted – I personally dislike the following line from the same site

    Organic produce is not covered in a cocktail of poisonous chemicals.

    Reminds me, to an extent, of the comments over on Tom Doorleys blog and as Tom summised in closing – it is about informed decision making. It’s definitely not about scare mongering… something a cocktail of poisonous anything would do to some.

    beir bua

  2. ciaran cuffe
    ciaran cuffe says:


    ASAI may have ruled against “Organic Good for Nature, Good for You”, but I understand “Organic Farming, Good for Nature, Good for You” is still OK. The EU leaf is a new branding slogan that I believe looks quite well, and hopefully will assist in marketing organics internationally.

    I don’t believe €1m euro was used in this campaign, according to that UK journalist. Last year’s National Organic Week budget was €150k, I don’t have 2008 figures to hand.

    As regards the imported organic versus local food, there’s the bones of a good discussion there. There are many facets to the organic / local / fair-trade debate. What it goes to show is that sustainability has many aspects ranging from social to economic to environmental sustainability.

    All the best,


    By the way, do you know who lodged the complaint with the ASAI?

  3. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:

    A Chara Ciaran,

    to your first point: the EU organic logo aside, a minor name change/ addition from organic to organic farming but still with the use of a slogan that has been ruled against by the ASAI [Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland] is ok ? In your role as a representative of the people of Ireland, you do not feel you should refer to this as still misleading ?

    Re paragraph 2: this will be responded to by this evening, I’m told.

    To your 3rd paragraph, its not an organic versus imported foods discussion as such I was hoping for. You represent also the ‘ordinary’ [no organic] farmers of Ireland like the Dublin Meath Growers who are not [or not all] organic farmers – and the IOFGA [irish organic farmers growers assoc] are allowed suggest that vegetables maybe ‘covered in a cocktail of poisonous chemicals’. The reality is as can be seen from above is that [not all] people really know what actually is organic by definition and also what is considered ‘ordinary’ vegetables.

    After that my question remains as to a schools programme that my child will have to be involved in – which can not be organic – but is labelled as organic. Maybe you can answer why it is labelled as such ?

    Interesting, yet surprising response from you minister.

    Yes, I do know who lodged the complaint with the ASAI

  4. Danny
    Danny says:

    Dear Ciarán,

    I think you might be attempting a FF style spin there with your figures… It is irrelevant what you “believe”. It is important what you “know” as Minister of State for Agriculture. What is factual is:

    1. the EU Commission has provided Ireland with matching monies for marketing organic. Would be nice if you could let us all know what these figures are if you are going to dispute the words of a journalist and your own public servant (Lorcan Bourke from Bord Bia).

    2: There was a lot money spent developing Bord Bia’s misleading slogan “organic: good for nature, good for you”. This is evident but the market research carried out here: http://tinyurl.com/37dafwc (note the last 3 slides)
    Again, it would be good that the taxpayer know the price for the development of a misleading marketing slogan? Please do enlighten us!

  5. Maeve
    Maeve says:

    Hi Peter. We would like to respond to your post. Each year, Bord Bia in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF), coordinates a number of trade & consumer events & initiatives to promote the organic sector & the availability of organic produce here in Ireland. Bord Bia’s annual budget for marketing & promoting organics varies from year to year depending on the number of activities planned. For example, in 2009, these events included National Organic Week, National Organic Awards, an organic gardening schools programme & a stand at the international organic trade fair Biofach. Funding provided by DAFF for those initiatives in 2009 amounted to €313,000, a figure typical of the ongoing annual spend rather than the €1 million referred to. The focus of expenditure is on the specific initiatives & any slogan used is merely in a supportive role rather than a focus of expenditure in itself. The European Commission developed a number of slogans (not Bord Bia) – http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/organic/toolbox/messages-slogans_en – and Bord Bia used an abbreviated version of one of these slogans for its 2008 and 2009 National Organic Week campaign. The ASAI has advised the full version of the slogan: Organic Farming: Good for Nature, Good for You should be applied to any future organic campaigns. We do hope this clarifies the query.

    Maeve @Bord Bia

  6. soubresauts
    soubresauts says:

    You lose credibility when you make statements like:
    “… the fact that 99.9% [not a researched figure] of farmers do not use fertilisers on their potatoes, although they may not be certified organic…”

    Not a researched figure, indeed. You don’t really believe it, do you?

    And when you consider all the artificial pesticides that the potato growers use, on top of the artificial fertilizers, you can begin to see the virtues of organic potatoes.

  7. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:

    thanks for the response. Might I ask whether the organic schools programme is actually organic or is it more a schools gardening programme ?

    Thanks for commenting and a fair point, but to be honest I wouldn’t think so regarding credibility.
    In the case of grow your[my] own – I have never used fertiliser on potato plants/ seed, nor recommended it, know of it used by any I have thought grow your own classes to. My podcasts regularly recommend/ explain [and in the one on this post] that an old potato, sprouted and planted in muck is [surely ?] greener than any ‘organic’ pure grown potato. [?]
    I don’t either know of any farmer [personally] who uses fertiliser on theirs, in what may be considered commercial. It’s more, that I am aware, maybe a case of chemical usage in the case of potential blight or scare. That said I’m sure the IFA, IPM, Dublin Meath Growers or Bord Bia could correct me on this.

    Re the virtues of non organic – Irish people have been eating them [non-organic] for centuries. There is always the point, as I have said previous, to be made where the IOFGA have noted on their site that Organic produce is not covered in a cocktail of poisonous chemicals, when the reality is due to legislation that neither is non-organic/ an ordinary vegetable – ie. covered in a cocktail of chemicals.

    But then Bord Bia, represent and work with all [most] growers in this country and I’m sure they could clarify this too. [?]

    I’m sure you are also aware that one can apply for use of chemicals in organic farming, yet still be labelled organic ?
    Funny thing is not one person [in a position of authority/ politics/ state etc] has given me a definition [legislation] of what is organic and also equally what is [legislation] or even generally used by the ‘ordinary’ farmer.

    Either or, discussion is good. Especially when you see the variance [in post] of what people believe organic actually is.
    Best for now and thanks again

  8. peter donegan
    peter donegan says:


    thanks for your time on this – but – just to be a stickler/ clarify….. it teaches the organic principles – but – the produce from the school garden will not be organic. Have I got that right ?

    Unless that is of course the school has [certified] left the soil unfarmed/ without pesticides etc for 8 years [?]


  9. Danny
    Danny says:

    Thanks Maeve for the reply.

    Glad to see Bord Bia will not use the misleading slogan in your marketing again. Surely, tax payers shouldn’t be mislead by an agency of the state. In addition, do you have any actual food experts in Bord Bia, because anyone who has ever farmed would have known in the first place that not ALL organic is “good for you” or “nature”….

    Now on to your very odd suggestion that “organic farming” is good for nature (and seemingly for me)….well, that depends…its certainly not better than leaving the land fallow. All farming is environmentally negative compared to non-farming (i.e. leaving the land the way nature intended it to be). Also is “organic farming” in South America really good for me if they fly the products to Ireland for sale (i.e. massive carbon footprint). I think not, as local conventional farming would be better. Your excuse that the EU Commission published this organic promo material is terribly weak. Take for example their other slogan: “Organic farming. Simply good.”….what silliness!!….ask an illegal immigrant worker in California if organic farming is good for him/her.
    I look for to making a complaint myself to the ASAI if Bord Bia tries to use any of the silly EU Commission slogans…..

  10. Maeve
    Maeve says:

    Hi Peter. Thanks for your question. To be certified organic certification needs to be applied for & granted by DAFF (Department of Agriculture Fisheries & Food) recognised organic organisations. Some schools in Ireland have been certified.

    Maeve @Bordbia

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