Animals and animal products: international trade regulations

Specific guidelines for trading animals and products of animal origin, including health certificates and licences, and the general system of declarations and checks for importing or exporting.

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Goods derived from animals are referred to as products of animal origin (POAO). POAO include certain live animals for direct human consumption, foodstuffs, by-products and goods that may have come into contact with animals, such as hay and straw. Most POAO controls apply to countries outside the European Union (EU). Intra-EU transactions are simpler, unless there is a major outbreak of disease. Live animals for breeding and production are also subject to similar controls on imports.

Traders must follow detailed guidelines for specific types of POAO as well as the general system of declarations and checks at the point of entry into the UK. You usually need to provide evidence of specific veterinary or health checks to ensure your products are allowed into the UK or to export goods. This guide shows you how the system works, what to do if you have problems and the paperwork you need to import or export POAO.

Products of animal origin in international trade

POAO are defined as any products derived from animals or products that have a close relationship with animals. They include:

  • fresh meat and offal
  • game and poultry
  • meat products
  • fish, shellfish and fish products
  • processed animal protein for human consumption
  • processed pet food or raw material for pet food production
  • lard and rendered fats
  • animal casings
  • milk and milk products
  • eggs and egg products
  • honey
  • semen, embryos, manure, blood and blood products
  • bones, bone products and gelatine
  • hides and skins
  • bristles, wool, hair and leathers
  • hay and straw
  • hunting trophies, ie animal heads and skins
  • insect pupae

If you intend to trade animal products, you should carefully check the entry requirements before moving the goods.

If you are moving POAO within the EU, you will need to meet any relevant health certification and product-marking requirements specific to each type of product and which are standardised across the EU.

Generally, each type of POAO has specific import requirements in addition to the general procedures laid out in this guide. You can find specific requirements for importing each type of POAO on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.

When you import POAO from non-EU countries, your goods will be checked at the point of entry into the UK at Border Inspection Posts. You will have to ensure the relevant paperwork has been completed in order for Customs to clear the goods. Goods must be certified by recognised authorities in the originating countries - these countries are approved on an EU-wide basis. You can find out more in the guide on overseas veterinary certificates and Border Inspection Posts.

When the goods arrive at the port, paperwork is checked by the port health authority (PHA). Once your POAO have passed the checks, and you have paid the right fees, they will be issued with a CVED and can be released into customs control and then into free circulation.

If the goods are rejected, you must ensure they’re either re-exported or destroyed.

If you are exporting outside the EU, you must check the entry requirements for your target country before you ship your goods.

Importing POAO

To import POAO from third countries, you must check your supplier is approved and pre-notify the Border Inspection Post (BIP) at the port where the goods are expected to arrive.

Find a leaflet on the key steps and checks to take when importing food on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.

Read a basic guide to importing POAO on the Port Health website.

Download a guide to European Union (EU) import conditions for fresh meat and meat products from the Europa website (PDF, 289K).

Pre-shipping checks

All POAO entering the EU must come from countries that have been approved and meet EU-wide product specific standards. These are certified by ‘competent authorities’ - usually government departments or agencies - in the originating country. Within the approved country, suppliers of some POAO, such as meat, also need to be approved for EU trade. However, suppliers of other products, such as eggs, do not need approval.

You should ensure that the consignment can meet all the public and animal health rules for import. Rules do change frequently, for example during an outbreak of a serious animal disease, like foot and mouth disease or highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), products may be restricted or banned at short notice, such as the HPAI outbreak in Southeast Asia. The country should have an approved residue plan and should not be subject to any restrictions for animal diseases or other health risks.

Find approved establishments outside the EU for POAO on the Europa website.

As an importer, you have a number of legal responsibilities. These include the safety and traceability of your goods, prevention of disease and the withdrawal of products where necessary. You can see an overview of your legal responsibilities as an importer of POAO on the FSA website.

You should also ensure that your health certificates are ready for presentation with the correct support documentation, at the right point in time to the authorities.

New rules apply to the import of animal by-products (ABPs) and import of POAO for research, medical or museum purposes from third countries. Rules now include imports of ABPs for research and diagnostic samples, trade samples (eg for machine testing) and display items (eg for artistic activities).

Download a guide to POAO research and educational imports from the Defra website (PDF, 136KB).

Read about importing ABPs on the Defra website.

Get your goods to the point of import

You must import your third country POAO through appropriate BIPs where the environmental health officers and vets working in the BIP will check them. You must ensure the BIP you choose will accept your goods as not all BIPs accept every type of POAO.

You must pre-notify the BIP of an incoming consignment in advance. If you do not pre-notify the BIPs of incoming consignments, your goods may be rejected and you will have to re-export them or destroy them at your own expense.

You can make the notification in two ways. You can complete Part 1 of a Common Veterinary Entrance Document (CVED) which you can obtain from the PHA managing the appropriate BIP. Alternatively, you can use the online Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) service to complete Part 1 of the CVED. You can find out about using TRACES in the guide to using TRACES to trade in animal and animal products.

You can do this yourself or use an agent, such as a freight forwarder.

Contractual considerations

Once your goods arrive at the BIP, they will be subject to checks before they can be released.

It’s essential that you take into account the possibility of goods being rejected at the border when drawing up contracts with your suppliers. POAO are often perishable, so if they’re rejected at the border the goods may have to be destroyed. It’s a good idea to clarify in writing who in your supply chain is responsible for ensuring the paperwork is completed on time, as well as to work closely with your suppliers to minimise the risks of rejection, and ensure you don’t have to pay for rejected goods.

Import requirements change frequently - you may find more of your products need a licence than previously. Read latest news on imports of POAO on the Defra website.

Import checks on POAO

When POAO arrive into the EU the PHA at the point of entry into the EU makes three checks at the Border Inspection Post (BIP):

  • document check - this ensures that any required health certification and pre-notification documents are present and correctly completed
  • identity check - this ensures the goods are the same as those described on the accompanying paperwork
  • physical check - the PHA may examine a proportion of the shipment to ensure it does not pose a threat to animal or human health

Physical checks are carried out according to the perceived risk level of specific products and their origin. The percentage of consignment checking is set by law.

See the guide on overseas veterinary certificates and BIPs.

Import licensing and paperwork for specific goods

You must check the paperwork you will require to import your specific types of POAO. If you are importing POAO into the UK that are not covered by EU-wide regulations, you will need to hold a licence to do so.

Leaving the port

Once the document and identity checks are completed, the goods are examined by veterinary inspectors. When these checks are passed and you have made the payment for the inspection, the PHA will complete Part 2 of the Common Veterinary Entry Document (CVED) and the goods will be released to HMRC officers.

Once they are customs approved, the goods can be released and removed from the port. A copy of the CVED must accompany the goods to their first destination after clearing customs, and be retained there for at least 12 months.

Keep up to date

Regulations, inspection requirements and licensing changes for POAO can change quickly. It’s a good idea to ensure you keep on top of these changes.

Read the latest news on imports of POAO on the Defra website.

What happens if my product of animal origin goods aren’t cleared?

If your POAO aren’t cleared at the BIP, you will be given a control notice that explains the reasons why.

Your options when entry is denied

There are usually two options open for goods refused entry - re-export or destruction.

As long as the products are not a risk to animal or human health and safety, they can be re-exported outside the EU. This must be done within 60 days of the initial rejection, and all certification and documentation for the goods will be amended to show the goods have been rejected.

If you choose to destroy the goods, you must ensure they are destroyed at the approved rendering plant/incinerator nearest to the BIP. See the guide on dealing with animal by-products.

Bear in mind, however, that if the destruction of consignments leads to the creation of by-products that can safely be used and marketed, you may do so. You must work closely with the Defra vets at the AHVLA in these cases.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) approve premises that process animal by products (ABP). Find a list of ABP premises on the Defra website.

In all cases of rejection you’re liable for the costs, such as storage and inspection of the goods before re-export and any costs related to transport and destruction.

You can appeal against any decision to reject your consignments, but you should consider whether it’s worthwhile before you do.

Appeals for rejected POAO

Occasionally your POAO may not be cleared at the BIP. If you wish to contest a refusal for entry of your goods, your first step is to check the back of the control notice, as this will show you the reasons for the refusal. This will also tell you the organisation to which you should direct an appeal.

Appeal considerations

You will need to carefully consider whether it’s worth appealing - note that an appeal can take considerable time and its value is often questionable for perishable goods. It may be better to examine whether the goods can be re-exported or processed into saleable by-products.

You should consider at which stage of the process problems have arisen. Were your goods rejected by, for example:

  • an AHVLA inspection
  • HM Revenue & Customs
  • a local authority department, such as environmental health

In many cases, rejection can be avoided in the future once you have isolated the reasons for it.

If you wish to make an appeal against any enforcement action or notices served on you, it’s a good idea to take legal advice. The details of who to appeal to, and the time limits within which you must lodge an appeal, will be clearly stated on any control notices or formal documents.

You can find out about dealing with appeals and enforcement activity complaints on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.

Exporting POAO

If you wish to export POAO outside the EU successfully, it’s essential to plan everything well in advance. The rules and regulations governing the sector are detailed, variable and complex. Careful research before you start will minimise the risk of time-consuming and costly mistakes.

Health certification requirements

It is very likely that you will require an official veterinary export health certificate of some kind to export your POAO. Your first step should be to check with the AHVLA Specialist Service Centre for Exports to see if a suitable Export Health Certificate (EHC) is already available. Find contact details for the Central Operations Unit for Exports on the Defra website.

EHCs are typically tailored to meet the key animal health requirements of import permits or other information issued by the importing authorities. Since import permits and other import regulations for a given commodity can even vary from importer to importer, you should ensure that the available EHC satisfies the terms of the permit your particular importer has been given. You and your overseas customer may also be required to comply with specific regulations and conditions well in advance of your goods being shipped, so the earlier you know about these the better. For example, your company may have to be specifically approved by the importing authorities and your customer may need to obtain permission to place your goods on the market as well as being in possession of a valid import permit. 

It’s always a good idea to check the most up-to-date information on the official requirements of the importing country. This is because importing regulations and requirements can change at short notice in response to a number of factors, in particular threats to animal and human health and safety. Changes to import rules can mean that the EHC may no longer be acceptable to the importing authorities which could lead to your goods being detained or denied entry.

If you are having difficulties obtaining the latest requirements from the importing authorities, you may be able to check these through your importer or with the importing country’s foreign embassy in the UK.

Find a list of foreign embassies in the UK

Check your own capabilities

Once you know which certification and health requirements you need to meet, you should consider how best to address them.

You can discuss the certification process with your vet or the Official Veterinarian who will sign your EHC. You do not have to pay for an EHC, but you will have to pay the Official Veterinarian who signs it for the service, as well as for any advice. You can find out about using Official Veterinarians from AHVLA Specialist Service Centre for Exports.

You will also need to confirm any movement, transport and welfare requirements for live animals. Different species have different requirements.

Moving your goods

Once you’re sure you have understood and met all the requirements, ask the Official Veterinarian to inspect and certify your goods for export.

The completed and signed EHC will provide the authorities in the importing country with assurances that, based on the information you have provided, your goods met their key animal health requirements at the time of inspection. You should be aware that your goods may be subject to further controls upon arrival, such as physical inspection, laboratory testing or a period of quarantine. You may also have to provide additional documentation to comply with requirements which are not covered by the EHC.

Intra-EU movements of POAO

In most cases, acquiring or dispatching POAO within the EU is straightforward, although you should take care to keep up to date with changes.

Goods are generally classified as being in free circulation if they have been imported through a Border Inspection Post (BIP) anywhere in the EU. For example, if a consignment has passed the import checks at a port in Germany, it is usually free to travel from there to the UK. However, you will need to ensure that the relevant documentation travels with each consignment to enable it to pass through ports.

The paperwork you need varies according to which type of POAO you are moving. Find specific requirements for importing each type of POAO on the Defra website.

You must ensure that your goods meet any relevant UK regulations once they have entered the UK, such as labelling requirements. Special requirements apply to some POAO, such as eggs and butter. Health marks are applied to red meat carcasses and wholesale cuts to show that they are fit for human consumption.

Find guidance on labelling by type of food on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website.

You must also make sure your POAO are transported safely. You must also package your POAO correctly, as special rules apply.


You must keep up to date with any changes to EU regulations on the movement of POAO, as these will affect any movement between member states. These can change quickly, particularly in the case of outbreaks of disease. You can find up-to-date information on the Defra website. See the latest news and key information regarding POAO on the Defra website.

Specific licensing requirements for POAO

For some types of goods, you will need to follow different or additional procedures, which are specific to the type of product of animal origin (POAO) you are importing.

Domestic licensing

If you are acquiring POAO in the UK that are not covered by EU-wide legislation, you will need a domestically issued licence. Many POAO not covered by EU-wide regulations can be imported using general licences (GL) or general authorisations (GA) issued by the Defra. GL/GAs are freely published documents. However, it’s essential that you check your products are covered by GL/GAs and that you fully understand the terms and conditions of any GL/GAs you use.

If your goods are not covered by either EU legislation or a GL/GA issued by Defra, you will need to apply to Defra for a specific licence. Applications for licences are assessed using a risk-based approach based on factors such as the type of product, the health status of the animal from which the product is derived, the health status of the country of origin and the purpose for which the material is being imported. You should do this in advance of shipping the goods in order to avoid them being rejected.

New rules apply to the import of animal by-products (ABPs) and import of POAO for research, medical or museum purposes from third countries. However, the rules give businesses time to adjust by allowing the use of existing import rules/documentation until 31 January 2012, provided that the accompanying documentation has been signed before 30 November 2011.

Rules now include imports of ABPs for research and diagnostic samples, trade samples (eg for machine testing) and display items (eg for artistic activities).

Download a guide to POAO research and educational imports from the Defra website (PDF, 136K).

Licenses are also available for the importation of POAO for research, education, diagnostic or museum purposes. 

Common Agricultural Policy licences

If your POAO are covered by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), you will also need to ensure that you are complying with the relevant CAP conditions, including CAP licences, as well as import and export refunds and levies.

CAP licences are issued by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and enforced by HMRC. Regulations change frequently. To check if your goods need a licence call the Rural Payments Agency Helpline on Telephone: 0118 968 7333.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

If your POAO are covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), you may also need to ensure that you are complying with the CITES rules and you may need to have a CITES licence before you dispatch the goods. Offences relating to species covered by CITES have high penalties.

CITES licences are issued by the AHVLA and enforced by HMRC. To check if your goods need a licence call the CITES Licensing Team on Telephone: 0117 372 8774 or email them at

Read the guide on Enforcing CITES controls.

Sources of help and support for importers and exporters trading in POAO

Traders can find several sources of support and advice for trading POAO internationally.

Defra leads the policy in the area related to health and animal welfare. AHVLA, an executive agency of Defra, deals with operational matters relating to UK’s animal health controls.

Your local authority should also be able to offer you information about port health authority services.

You can find out about importing POAO on the Defra website.

You can see an overview of exporting POAO on the Defra website.

You can find your local AHVLA Office on the Defra website.

You can also contact the Defra Helpline on Telephone: 08459 33 55 77 or the AHVLA on Telephone: 01245 39 82 98

For queries about customs control and procedures, check with the HMRC VAT Helpline on Telephone: 0845 010 9000.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) handles the policy covering the safety of imported food. There is a leaflet on the key steps and checks to take when importing food on the FSA website.

You can call the Food Standards Agency Imported Food Helpline on Telephone: 020 7276 8018.

You can find out about port health authorities (PHA) on the Association of Port Health Authorities website.

If you have any queries about fish products you wish to import or export, check with the FSA. Find out about importing fishery products on the FSA website.

Further information

Food Standards Agency Imported Food Helpline

Telephone: 020 7276 8018

Food Standards Agency Helpline

Telephone: 020 7276 8829

RPA Helpline

Telephone: 0845 603 7777

Defra Helpline

Telephone: 08459 33 55 77

POAO import requirements on the Defra website

Food import legislation overview on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) website

Food import regulations overview on the FSA website

Download a POAO import process outline from the FSA website (PDF, 77K)

Approved non-EU POAO establishment listings on the Europa website

Basic guide to importing POAO on the Port Health website

Download an application for POAO not covered by general licences from the Defra website (PDF, 1.33MB)

Appeals and enforcement activity complaints guidance on the FSA website

Foreign embassies in the UK

Food labelling regulation guidance on the FSA website

POAO export overview on the Defra website

PHA information on the Association of Port Health Authorities website

List of local AHVLA Offices

Published 1 August 2012