An international team of researchers has branded the evidence linking the meats with serious health problems such as cancer and heart disease so “weak” there is no need to cut down from the four portions people enjoy on average per week.
Their new guidance contradicts recommendations from health organisations including the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which tells people to avoid processed meat altogether or eat very little of it, while limiting red meat to about three portions a week.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) also recommends that anyone who eats more than 90g of red or processed meat per day should try to cut down to 70g or less.
Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study was written by a team of 14 international experts, who assessed the quality of the available evidence on eating meat and health outcomes.
Study author Bradley Johnston, associate professor at Dalhousie University in Canada, said: "Based on the research, we cannot say with any certainty that eating red or processed meat causes cancer, diabetes or heart disease."
He added: "From 12 randomised controlled trials enrolling about 54,000 individuals, we did not find a statistically significant or an important association in the risk of heart disease, cancer or diabetes for those that consumed less red or processed meat."
The World Health Organisation has classified processed meat as carcinogenic since 2015.
The World Cancer Research Fund has warned against red and processed meats since 2010.
Dr Giota Mitrou, its director of research, said: “We stand by our rigorous research of the last 30 years and urge the public to follow the current recommendations on red and processed meat.
"The recommendation that adults continue current red and processed meat consumption is based on a skewed reading and presentation of the scientific evidence."
Dr Nigel Brockton, vice president of research at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), said: "We stand by the rigour of our research methodology and our cancer prevention recommendation that people should limit red meat intake to less than 12 to 18oz per week and avoid processed meat.
"The underlying results reported by the NutriRECS group are actually consistent with this advice.
"However, their interpretation of the strength of these findings differs from the conclusions reached by the WCRF/AICR continuous update project expert panel.
"Regularly eating processed meat, and higher consumption of red meat, increases your risk of colorectal cancer.
"Suggesting that there is no need to limit these foods would put people at risk of colorectal cancer and further undermine public confidence in dietary advice."