Are we stirring up a can of worms?

Science, once an absolute expression of fact, appears to have become as open to interpretation as religion. "Lies, damn lies and science" could become the mantra for the 21st century.

First, we have the competing science over climate change, and now we have the meat industry challenging the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) over its claim of a "convincing" link between red and processed meats and bowel cancer. It's great to see the industry fighting its corner, although the WCRF is not going down without a fight and is now picking technical holes in the industry's case.

The meat sector's aim was to suggest that the WCRF advice shouldn't be considered the final authority on the issue, and that there are doubts about the cancer links with meat. After all, the EPIC-Oxford study found a higher incidence of bowel cancer among vegetarians than meat-eaters. The leader of the EPIC study, Professor Tim Key was quoted by the BBC as saying: "There is a lot of evidence about meat, but it's not completely compelling."

Another cancer expert, Prof Karol Sikora, also criticised the WCRF. He said: "We have created a nightmare situation of confusing messages based on very little evidence. Eating red meat in the context of a balanced diet should really not be viewed as a problem."

Meanwhile, the WCRF has hit back, saying that anyone can pick the odd individual study to make a case, whereas it has gathered a wide range of studies to formulate its position.

The only slight niggle in my mind is whether the industry might have been better letting sleeping dogs lie. The WCRF report, when published in 2007, received a pasting from the mainstream press who refused to accept the notion we had to give up bacon. Did the industry need to draw attention back to the subject? Time will tell.

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