Sound the alarm – bacon is as bad as smoking!

Or at least, that’s how the majority of the world took the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announcement that processed meat consumption is linked to cancer. These findings, released last Monday, classified processed meat as a “carcinogenic to humans (Group 1),” a group that also includes asbestos, coal, Formaldehyde and tobacco.

Needless to say, the report sent a shockwave across the world.  Reactions quickly spread like wildfire, fueled by angry meat-eaters and smug vegans alike. 

In the U.S., groups like the North American Meat Institute called the claim as “dramatic and alarmist overreach” while bacon lovers took to social media, primarily Twitter, to voice their disdain. In Italy, farmers protested by eating a giant sausage sandwich.

Dr. Jude Capper, an animal scientist and cancer survivor, explained that she wasn’t about to stop eating processed meat.

“As a cancer survivor, I am the last person to downplay the importance of minimizing cancer risk,” she wrote in a commentary here. “However, ultimately we will all die and almost everything we do, from driving a car to choosing salad ingredients, carries some risk to health. Rather than the continuing mass of conflicting evidence, where every week a new article warns us about the latest cancer-causing drug/chemical/food; we need a balanced assessment of all cancer risks in order to make the best choices. I don’t smoke and I have had less than 10 alcoholic drinks in the past 2.5 years, but bacon remains on my dinner menu tonight.”

Others, especially vegetarians and vegan groups, praised WHO. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine used the WHO report as a base to petition the USDA to eliminate processed meat from school lunches.

California is even considering acting on WHO's claim thanks to Proposition 65, a 29-year initiative that requires the state to keep a list of all chemicals and substances known to increase a risk of cancer. The state is considering adding processed and red meat to the list, setting the stage for a battle with the meat industry over warning labels.

Less than a week after releasing their findings, however, WHO backtracked on their claims. Gregory Härtl, a spokesman for WHO, told The Irish Times in an article here that the original message from the report was “misinterpreted.”

“We’re not saying stop eating processed meats altogether. Do not cut out meats completely as it has nutrients,” he said. “But we do not want to do anything to excess. Research indicates reducing your consumption of processed meats can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.”

Härtl went on to say it was a “shortcoming” to add processed meats to the same cancer classification as tobacco.

“We do not want to compare tobacco and meat because we know that no level of tobacco is safe,” he said.

Read, “WHO: Processed meat cancer report message ‘misinterpreted’”

So far, the attempt has done little to suppress anger directed at the claims.

As one person commented on a Yahoo! News report, “The WHO attributed 34,000 deaths per year worldwide to diets high in processed meats. Folks, there are 7 billion and some odd people on this green Earth. 34,000 is hardly a drop in the bucket. Give me hot dogs! Give me spiced luncheon loaf! Give me pastrami! Give me ham and kielbasa and bratwurst and bacon and jerky and steak and ribs and brisket and a couple of big fat pork chops! Give me meat, give me meat, GIVE ME MEAT!!!”

Time will tell at what WHO really means. In a press release attempting to quell the masses, WHO said its experts will meet early next year to “begin looking at the public health implications of the latest science and the place of processed meat and red meat within the context of an overall healthy diet.”

In other words, expect more outrage after WHO's "experts" clarify how processed and red meat fit within a health diet.