Food ― what is food?

Produced by Tolley

The following Value Added Tax guidance note Produced by Tolley provides comprehensive and up to date tax information covering:

  • Food ― what is food?
  • Meaning of food
  • Food for human consumption
  • Food ingredients and basic foodstuffs
  • Ingredients with culinary and non-culinary uses
  • Medicines, dietary supplements and food additives
  • Animal food
  • Seeds, plants, etc
  • Live animals
  • Examples of food
  • More...

Food ― what is food?

This guidance note explores what is meant by food in the context of the zero-rating for food in VATA 1994, Sch 8, Group 1.

For an overview of the scope of zero-rating for food and the exceptions to this, see the Food ― overview of zero-rating guidance note

In-depth commentary on the legislation and case law surrounding the meaning of food can be found in De Voil Indirect Tax Service V4.217–V4.225.

Meaning of food

Food (which includes drink) is very broadly defined for VAT purposes and encompasses all of the following:

  1. food for human consumption

  2. animal food

  3. seeds, plants, etc for human or animal food

  4. live animals generally used for making human food

VATA 1994, Sch 8, Group 1, General Items, note 1

These four categories are explored further in this guidance note.

Food for human consumption

HMRC generally takes the view that an item of food is for human consumption if it meets the following criteria:

  1. an average person would consider that the item is food or drink if they knew what it is and how it is used

  2. the item is fit for human consumption

VAT Notice 701/14, para 2.3

Food ingredients and basic foodstuffs

Just because an ingredient is not the kind of thing that someone would eat on its own, provided the ingredient is generally recognised as being a food ingredient, HMRC should accept that it is food for human consumption. For example, recognised food ingredients might include products like flour which would not often be eaten on its own but is nevertheless widely accepted as food. HMRC gives views on a number of specific ingredients in VFOOD2200 (see also the tables at the end of this guidance note).

By the same token, basic unprocessed foodstuffs can be categorised as food for human consumption provided they are fit for human consumption.

VAT Notice 701/14, para 3.1

Ingredients with

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