5th January 2001 at 00:00
SEEDS FOR LIFE? By Christian AidPO Box 100, London SE1 7RT14-minute video and booklet pound;12.99. FOOD FOR OUR FUTURE.

Food Future, Food and Drink Federation, Communications Division, 6 Catherine Street, London WC2B 5JJ.

These two packs could be valuably used with key stage 4 pupils when teaching citizenship in an international context. They should also be useful for science, English, geography and PSHE.

The well-structured and accessible Christian Aid video and booklet focus on a traditional farming community in rural India and look at the pressures it faces from modern biotechnology. The pack's tone and message are summed up by the quote: "Granny's organic method could be better than the chemical farming being pushed into India by Western companies."

Food for Our Future consists of two attractive booklets from the Food and Drink Federation, which look at the impact of genetic modification on food. Endorsed in its foreword by Professor Janet Bainbridge, chair of the Government's advisory committee on novel foods and processes, the pack presents an optimistic picture of the potential of GM foods.

Both publications aim for balance: Christian Aid suggests some of theways in which GM food and other techniques of modern biotechnology may benefit farmers, while the Food and Drink Federation looks at some of the risks of GM foods. But a group of 14 to 16-year-olds would learn far more about science and the production of knowledge by looking at both together than by examining just one of them.

Indeed, while the packs are most likely to be used outside citizenship,their real value is perhaps in enabling pupils to grapple with questions about how scientific conclusions are reached, their validity and the limitations of scientific knowledge in making political decisions. How can Christian Aid and the Food and Drink Federation reach such different conclusions? Does this mean that one of them is biased? How should societies decide whether to encourage, permit or ban GM crops?

Used critically, resources such as these packs can help pupils develop their understanding of how scientific conclusions are reached in the real world - not just in school laboratories.

Michael Reiss is professor of science education at the University of London Institute of Education and directs the Salters-Nuffield Advanced Biology project

Michael Reiss

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