Experts fear a new EU law regulating the use of nutritional and health claims in relation to food products could ultimately damage public health if consumers stop buying products that are good for them.

Jaya Henry, professor of Human Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University, said: "Functional foods play an increasingly important role in nutrition. Europe could end up with a situation where suppliers can't meet the public's needs. You must have controls to prevent any Tom, Dick and Harry from saying 'eat this'. But the regulations should be pragmatic and balance scientific rigour with the need for innovation."

Henry said the regulation required suppliers to explain mechanical links between specific compounds and the claimed benefits, a standard he said was potentially higher than that required for some prescription drugs.

The regulations would also increase the cost of NPD since each product would need a scientific dossier ­approved by the EFSA.

Health and diet sector lobbyist Christopher Whitehouse said: "Each dossier could cost up to £100,000. It would be a severe blow to small companies."

The law has been passed to the European Council, which is expected to approve and enact it by November. It will also ban product endorsements by individual healthcare professionals.