International trade regulations in the Agriculture, horticulture and fisheries sector

Import regulations for animals, animal products, fish, feed, plants and organic produce

If you import animals, animal products, fish, feed, plants or organic produce, you need to be aware of certain rules and procedures.

Live animals, animal products and fish

Imports of animals (including fish and shellfish) and animal products must be notified in advance to a Border Control Post (BCP), and accompanied by health certification. To protect public and animal health in the UK, it is important that you comply with the import rules.

The rules specify that these goods must:

  • be imported into the European Union (EU) through a BIP (a designated inspection point operated by Animal Health, local authority or Port Health Authority (PHA))
  • be accompanied by a health certificate, obtained from the specified veterinary authority in the country of origin
  • be pre-notified to the BCP before arrival using a Common Veterinary Entry Document
  • pass an examination at the BCP to confirm they conform to the certified standards - a fee is payable to the BCP for this

The Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) is a web-based system run by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection to make the paperwork for trading in animals and animal products easier. For imported goods and live animals, the system allows traders to obtain health certificates and movement notifications of dispatches. Read more about using TRACES to trade in animals and animal products.

All cattle born in or imported into Great Britain since 1 July 1996 must have a cattle passport for life. They are issued by The British Cattle Movement Service, part of the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), and are used to trace the movement of cattle, both within Great Britain and internationally.

Animal-products legislation covers products that may have been in contact with animals, eg hay and straw.

Fish and EU fishery products

The import and export of fish and EU fishery products - whether being transported by sea, airfreight, rail or road - must meet requirements to prevent the movement of illegal marine fish and fishery products. In terms of import, you must have a validated catch certificate for any fish or fishery products you import.

If you are importing from a third country, you should check with your supplier and verify on the European Commission website that the country is included in the list of those which have approved authorities to validate catch certificates.

Read more about export regulations for animals, animal products, fish, plants and plant products.

In addition to the catch certificate, HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC's) National Clearance Hub requires authorisation for release by the relevant Port Health or local authority to confirm that IUU checks have been satisfactorily completed before Customs clearance can be granted. This applies to all import consignments of fish and fish products arriving by all modes of transport and at all points of entry in the UK.

You, your agent or the clearing authority at the point of entry must submit evidence of customs clearance by fax, email or a generated message, according to the procedures in place at that point of entry.

You must also use specific codes when completing box 44 of the Single Administrative Document Customs declaration. You can find the actual codes here - export regulations for animals, animal products, fish, plants and plant products.

Approved Economic Operators (APEO) scheme

The APEO scheme was set up for businesses involved in the import of fish and fish products. To qualify for APEO status however, you must first hold a general Customs Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) certificate.

If you are granted APEO status, you will benefit from quicker clearance of your goods as although you will still be required to hold catch certificates, you will not be required to present them at import.

Animal feed

Feed manufacturers and suppliers must declare all ingredients in animal feed according to their percentage by weight within 15 per cent. Compound feed imported from third (non-EU) countries must also comply with these requirements. Read about animal feed regulations.


Most plants and plant material can be freely transported within the EU, although high-risk goods may require a 'plant passport'. Imports of many plants and plant products from outside the EU may require a phytosanitary (plant health) certificate, and the issuing of a quarantine release certificate before their release into free circulation. Read more about trading in plants.

Organic produce

Most organic produce imported into the UK from another EU or EEA country or Switzerland should be produced by a supplier registered with an Organic Certification Body approved to operate by that country. You must be registered with an approved UK Organic Certification Body to import organic products from third countries or to produce or process and usually to trade in or store such produce.

Organic products from 'equivalent countries' - ie Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and Tunisia - may enter the EU without authorisation from Defra. You should note that some equivalence agreements don't cover all areas of agriculture or processed products. You may want to contact Defra before importing from these countries.

Imports from all other third countries need prior authorisation from DAERA. An application made by an importer to DAERA for import authorisation must clearly demonstrate that standards equivalent to the standard applied by European Community (EC) Law (Council Regulation 834/2007 and Commission Regulation 889/2008) have been applied at all stages.

Produce imported from third countries must always have a Certificate of Inspection, provided by the inspection/certification body of the third country. This must be presented at the place of import - either to the relevant PHA or Local Authority (LA) when your goods arrive at a UK port or exceptionally at another place from which you seek release for free circulation in the Community. The PHA or LA will in turn check this document against a secure database of all import authorisations Defra has issued.

Read more about importing organic products.

Other regulations

In addition to standard import requirements some foods, eg meat, poultry, game, milk, eggs, fish and those containing animal products, are subject to additional regulations on certification and/or labelling - see food and drink. Imports of raw material or processed food usually require a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) licence.

Imports of endangered plants or animals are controlled, and licences are required. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between governments that came into force in 1975. 

Prohibited imports into and trade within the EU

There is a ban on the placing on the market of any type of product made from seals and other pinnipeds - ie sea-lions and walruses. Read more about skin, fur and other animal products which may not be commercially imported.