Mars has criticised EU rules on food health claims and said it fears the regulations could be used to restrict advertising.

Klaske de Jonge, corporate communications director for Mars Europe, said the company doubted whether the legislation would change dietary habits as the EU looks to tackle growing obesity across the continent.

In July, EU laws nutrition and health came into force, meaning that claims made on certain products must now be backed by scientific evidence. The legislation also requires foods to fit set nutrient profiles - drawn up by the European Food Standards Agency - before they are allowed to carry any health or nutritional claims.

The EU believes the regulations will create EU-wide consistency for nutritional claims and therefore more accurately explain to consumers why a particular product is good for their health.

De Jonge said Mars, the confectionery and snack food giant, is dubious about the proposed benefits of the legislation and its ability to tackle obesity.

"Will nutrient profiling lead to a change in dietary habits? We are really doubtful about that," de Jonge said yesterday (23 October) at the Healthy Foods European Summit in London.

"The profile system should be established for specific food categories and not across the board. We fear profiling will be used for other purposes - to put restrictions on advertising and selling."

Guy Valkenborg, director of EU food law consultancy EAS, was also uncertain about the new legislation.

"We all agree on the problem of obesity. However, nutrient profiles are probably just one step too far," Valkenborg said. "I do question a lot that the jewel in the European crown on fighting obesity has to be nutrient profiling."

However, Sue Davies, chief policy adviser at UK consumer group Which?, said nutritional profiling was "fundamental" in helping consumers make healthier choices when buying food.

"Tighter control over nutritional claims is needed so when people read nutritional claims, they can rely on them," Davies said.