Import and export food and drink products

Import regulations for health and consumer protection


If you import food and drink, specific regulations may affect your business. To comply, you may need to obtain health certificates prior to export and notify the relevant UK enforcement authority. These regulations apply to a range of food and drink products, including nuts and chilli products, organic produce, alcohol, medical foods, animals and animal-based produce.

Organic produce

Organic produce imported into the UK from another European Union (EU) country should be produced by a supplier registered with an EU Organic Certification Body. You must be registered with an approved UK Organic Certification Body to import organic products from third countries.

Organic products from 'equivalent countries' - including Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland - may enter the European Community (EC) without authorisation from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). You should note that some equivalence agreements don't cover all areas of agriculture. It's a good idea to contact Defra before importing from these countries if you are not certain whether the product concerned falls into these categories.

Organic produce and emergency controls

Emergency controls on food, of organic and non-organic origin, may be put into place at extremely short notice - eg on produce from certain areas of Japan following the nuclear incident in March 2011.

Imports from all other third countries need prior authorisation from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA). An application made to DAERA by an importer applying for import authorisation must clearly demonstrate that standards equivalent to Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 have been applied at all stages.

Produce imported from third countries must also have a Certificate of Inspection provided by the inspection/certification body of the third country. This should be presented to the relevant UK Port Health Authority (PHA) or Local Authority (LA) when your goods arrive at a UK port or at a place other than where a consignment first enters EU territory and 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 DAERA has issued.

Medical foods

Medicinal products require authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they can be sold in the UK.

There are special labelling regulations for 'medical foods' (foods for Particular Nutritional Uses, medical foods and infant formula). Read food supplements: guidance and FAQs.

If you're importing traditional Chinese medicines or similar products, ensure they comply with medicinal products legislation.

Animal by-products governance and legislation covers products that may have been in contact with animals, such as certain grasses.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates the import of certain plants and animals. See enforcing CITES controls.

Animals and animal-based produce

Detailed rules cover the import of live animals (including fish and shellfish) and animal-based products in order to protect animal and public health. For more information, see products of animal origin - international trade regulations and international trade regulations in the agriculture, horticulture and fisheries sector.

GM and novel foods

Genetically modified (GM) foods and other novel food types can only be marketed in the EU if they have passed a rigorous safety assessment.

A novel food is a food or food ingredient that doesn't have a significant history of consumption within the EU before May 1997, eg fruit pulps, seeds and extracts intended for use as ingredients in fruit juices or energy drinks.

All novel foods are subject to a pre-market safety assessment. In the UK these are carried out by the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).

Current procedures for GM-food evaluation and authorisation are laid down in Regulation (EC) 1829/2003 on GM food and feed, which came into force in April 2004. Safety assessments are carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which published updated guidelines for the assessment of GM plants in March 2005.

Public health protection issues arising from GM product imports are regulated by the FSA. Controls by DAERA are also in place to protect the environment.

High-risk food products

Certain food products are identified as posing a specific risk to health and special control provisions are in place to minimise this risk.

These products may only be imported into the UK through a designated port, where you'll need to produce documentation to the local or port health authority. Specific legislation details the documentation you'll need, which may include health certification and certificates demonstrating that specified chemical analysis has been carried out.

Note that the types of restricted products and/or the countries subject to import restrictions do change from time to time. You should always check the UK Tariff for the current status.

See importing high-risk foods.

Food contact materials

There are also health requirements affecting materials and articles that come into contact with food. Food safety rules could apply to food and drink packaging and utensils which will be filled at home or in the food manufacturing or catering industry industries - eg feeding bottles for babies and infants. This is to prevent food from becoming contaminated by substances within the packaging or other items that it comes into contact with.


You must pay duty on imports of certain wine, beer or spirits. If you sell alcohol of 30 per cent abv (alcohol by volume) or more to retailers, you must ensure that the bottles have a duty stamp. To obtain stamps, you must first register with HMRC. Unstamped bottles can still be sold if duty was paid on them before 1 October 2006 and you have a receipt to prove this. Register for the UK Duty Stamps Scheme.

You may require a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) licence if you import wine from outside the EU.

You can import spirits duty-free if you use them in manufacturing processes or for medical or scientific purposes.

You must also be aware of labelling requirements.