There is a huge difference with the cancer fatality risk between consuming processed meat and smoking cigarettes, Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said on Wednesday. Although there was no need to stop consuming it altogether, it would be better to have less of it, he said.

The comments were made in response to an earlier World Health Organization (WHO) report, which claimed that processed meats such as bacon, sausages and ham cause cancer.

At a Legislative Council meeting, Ko said that although the WHO had classified processed meat as a “group one carcinogenic” – putting it in the same ranks as cigarettes – there was a huge difference between the risk of death from cancer caused by the two.

Bacon. Photo: cyclonebill via Flickr.

Citing another independent research report, he said that every year there were around 34,000 cases of deaths arising from colorectal cancer, compared to around 1 million deaths from smoking-induced cancer.

Ko Wing-man. Photo: RTHK.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, consuming 50g of the meat on a daily basis could increase risks by 18%. However, Ko said that the WHO report mainly wanted to show the connection between processed meat and cancer, and how consuming less processed meat could help lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer. It was not asking the public to stop consuming it completely, he said.

Ko also said that the government has already encouraged its departments to include less processed meats when arranging meals for employees, and the Social Welfare Department will also be discussing food nutrition and safety with NGOs that provide food assistance schemes.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.