Find out how to apply VAT zero rating for the supply of those plants and seeds that are used to grow food for human consumption.
This notice cancels and replaces Notice 701/38 (November 2003).
1.1 What this notice is about
The supply of most basic foodstuffs for human or animal consumption is zero-rated. Plants and seeds used for the production of foodstuffs are also zero-rated depending on how they are held out for sale. This notice explains when the following items can be zero-rated:
- seeds or other means of propagation (spores, rhizomes) used to produce those plants
- seeds used directly as foods
1.2 What’s changed
The technical content of this notice has not changed from the November 2003 edition but a minor amendment has been made to paragraph 4.3.
1.3 Who should read this notice
You should read this notice if you supply plants or seeds.
1.4 The law this notice covers
The relevant law is Group 1 of Schedule 8 to the Value Added Tax Act 1994.
2.1 Seeds and plants
The following are generally standard-rated for VAT:
- seeds, plants and cut flowers which are bought for their ornamental effect
- any produce which is held out for sale:
- as pet food
- packaged as food for birds other than poultry or game
- for a non-food purpose
2.2 What ‘held out for sale’ means
The term held out for sale means the:
- way you label, package, display, invoice, advertise or promote the product
- heading under which the product is listed in the catalogue, webpage or price list
3. Agricultural and horticultural crops
3.1 Crops covered by the relief
All crops that are specifically grown to produce food of a kind for human consumption or animal feeding stuffs are zero-rated.
The zero rate also applies to seeds, seedlings, crowns, spores, tubers and bulbs of edible vegetables and fruit.
3.2 What’s not covered by the relief
Any crop that generally produces items that are not fed to humans or animals is always standard-rated.
Plants that are primarily grown for their ornamental effect (such as ornamental nursery stock including trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, alpines and pot plants) are standard-rated.
Plants, seeds and fruit of a kind used for the production of perfumes, pharmaceutical products, insecticides, fungicides and other non-food uses are standard-rated.
Some examples of plants that are standard-rated are:
- Evening primrose, because this is grown for the extraction of its oil
- Tulips and Hyacinths, because these are grown and sold for ornamental purposes
- Norfolk reed, because this is grown for thatching material
3.3 Oilseed rape
Some varieties of oilseed rape are not suitable for human consumption. The liability of those that are not suitable will depend on the purpose for which it is supplied.
3.3.1 ‘OO’ type
Most oilseed rape is of the OO type which means that the oilseed yields oil fit for human consumption as well as meal for animals. These OO varieties of oilseed rape, including the actual seeds, and edible meal by-products are zero-rated.
3.3.2 High Erucic Acid Rape (HEAR) varieties
These varieties of oilseed rape varieties give a high erucic acid content in the oil and this is regarded as nutritionally undesirable in food for human consumption. The pressed oil is primarily used as an anti-corrosion agent and lubricant in mineral oil extraction and is standard-rated.
The residual meal can be used to feed ruminant livestock and it is zero-rated when supplied for feeding purposes.
The actual seeds of the HEAR varieties are used to plant for subsequent crops and as an animal feed and are zero-rated.
3.4 Linseed and flax
Varieties of the crop are grown either for its seeds and subsequent oil and residual meal, or for its flax fibre.
As the predominant use of the oil is for industrial purposes (for example, for paint, varnish, linoleum) it is standard-rated. The residual meal is largely used for incorporating into animal feed and can be zero-rated. The zero rate also applies to the actual seed when it is to be used as animal feed or for sowing.
These varieties are grown for the resulting fibre. Both the stems which are processed into linen, and the left over woody portion (used for making paper) are standard-rated. The small yield of seeds are zero-rated when used as animal feed.
3.5 Trees and fruit bearing shrubs
Plants, bushes and trees that are normally used in this country for the production of edible fruit are zero-rated.
The following is a definitive list of those fruit producing plants which may be zero-rated:
Almond (not flowering almond)
Cherry (not flowering cherry)
Citrus trees (not ornamental varieties)
Common quince (not chaenomeles)
Crab (only fruiting varieties)
Raspberry plum (not flowering plum)
Most rootstock is standard-rated irrespective of whether it is used in the growing of zero-rated or standard-rated plants and trees. But cucumber and tomato rootstocks are zero-rated.
4.1 Herbs covered by the relief
Plants of species which are generally accepted as reared primarily for culinary use are zero-rated. Ornamental herbs which also have a culinary use may be zero-rated, subject to certain conditions, see paragraph 4.3.
4.2 Culinary herbs
The following are eligible for zero rating irrespective of how they are held out for sale:
|Common name||Latin name|
|Anise hyssop||Agastache anethiodora|
|Basil||any plants of Ocimum genus|
|Borage||any plants of Borago genus|
|Cardoon||Cardoon bianco avorio|
|Celery wild||Apium graveolens|
|Celery wild alpine||Apium Australis|
|Curry leaf||Chalcas koenigii|
|Good King Henry||Chenopodium bonushenricus|
|Lemon grass||Cymbopogon citratus|
|Marjoram||all plants of the Origanum genus|
|Mint||all plants of the Mentha genus|
|Onion||all edible plants of the Allium genus|
|Rosemary||all plants of the Rosmarinus genus|
|Salad burnet||Poterium sanguisorba|
|Savory||Plants of the Saturela genus|
|Sorrel||Plants of the Rumex genus|
|Thyme||all plants of the Thymus genus|
4.3 Ornamental herbs sometimes used for culinary purposes
Plants which do have recognised culinary uses, although they are not species supplied predominantly as culinary herbs, may be zero-rated provided all the following conditions are fulfilled.
|1.||They have been raised according to the conditions required by the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (in cases of doubt, you may need to supply documentary evidence of this).|
|2.||They have been specifically held out for sale as culinary herbs (for example, described as such on invoices or in catalogues) and, where appropriate, displayed apart from ornamentals with other culinary herbs.|
|3.||They are supplied in individual pots (not in bedding strips) of a size less than 2 litres.|
|4.||In the case of bay plants, they do not exceed 50 centimetres in height, nor have they been clipped, shaped or topiarized in such a way as to specialise them as ornamentals.|
The following are therefore zero-rated if they comply with the specialised conditions and are held out for sale as culinary plants.
Plants with significant culinary use:
|Common name||Latin name|
|Allspice||Pimenta officinalis only|
|Bergamot||Plants of the Monarda genus|
|Chamomile||Anthemis nobilis Matricaria recutita|
|Comfrey||All plants of Symphytum genus|
|Clove pink||Dianthus carophyllus|
|Clover||All edible plants of Trifolium genus|
|Curry plant||Helichrysum italicum|
|Lavender||Any plants of the Lavendula genus|
|Lemon balm||Melissa officinalis|
|Lemon verbena||Aloysia triphylla|
|Marigold, pot||Calendula officinalis|
|Nasturtium, salad||Tropaeolum majus|
|Pelarqonium (scented)||Scented plants of the Pelargonium genus|
|Sweet Cecily||Myrrhis odorata|
|Violet (sweet)||Viola odorata and viola tricolor|
4.4 Medicinal herbs
Herbs supplied for medicinal rather than culinary use are not eligible for zero rating as food and are standard-rated, even if they have been raised under the same conditions as culinary herbs. This includes plants used in the preparation of food supplements, such as evening primrose and ginseng.
5.1 Seeds covered by the relief
All seeds that produce food of a kind for human consumption or animal feeding stuffs can be zero-rated. Examples are:
- vegetable seeds
- seeds for producing culinary herbs
- wheat, barley and other agricultural seeds grown to produce food for human or animal consumption
But any seed that generally produces items that are not fed to humans or animals is always standard-rated, for example:
- seeds or bulbs for growing flowers
- plants and trees mainly for ornamental effect
- agricultural crops for industrial or non-feed use
There are exceptions and these are detailed in the next 2 paragraphs.
5.2 Seeds producing edible flowers
The zero rate applies to the seed varieties listed where it is demonstrated that they are held out for sale as food of a kind used for human consumption. For example:
- where a catalogue or similar is produced, a marking is given indicating the variety that is said to be edible
- where a catalogue or similar is not produced, information at the point of display indicating the variety that is said to be edible
- in relation to each variety, provision of further details of food usage supplied on customer’s request
- in relation to each variety, provision of food-based information on seed packets (such as recipe ideas)
The following seed varieties are eligible for zero rating provided they are held out for sale similar to the criteria above.
This is an exhaustive list of flower seed varieties that can be zero-rated subject to the conditions above.
|Common name||Latin name|
|Bergamot||any of the Monarda genus|
|Clove pink||Dianthus carophyllus only|
|Lavender||any of the genus|
|Nasturtium||Tropaeolum majus only|
|Pelargonium||all scented plants of this genus|
|Pink||Dianthus carophyllus only|
|Poppy||any of the Papaver genus|
|Pot Marigold||Calendula officinalis only|
|Sunflower||any of the Helianthus genus|
|Violets||Viola odorata and tricolor|
5.3 Grass seed
Most grass seed is zero-rated because of the extensive use of grass as animal feed. This includes supplies to and by garden centres, local authorities and grass seed to be grown on set aside land.
But pre-germinated grass seed and turf are not used for the propagation of animal feed and are therefore standard-rated.
For supplies of hay, straw and grazing rights see Animals and animal food (VAT Notice 701/15).
6.1 Plant growing kits
Plant-growing kits or plant-starter kits typically consist of seeds, growing medium and some form of container, together with fertiliser and an instruction leaflet. Such kits are generally standard-rated regardless of whether the seeds are of a kind which would normally be zero-rated.
But the kit may be zero-rated provided the seeds are zero-rated and the:
- standard-rated element of the kit (for example, growing medium, fertiliser and pot) accounts for less than 10% of the total cost
- planting medium, which is impregnated with edible vegetable or fruit seeds, is no more than a means of simplifying the planting of the seeds (for example, peat cubes of less than 125cc impregnated with seeds, or thin layers of tissue incorporating seeds)
6.2 Mushroom growing kits
The VAT treatment of mushroom growing kits will depend on the type of container in which the kit is supplied. If the kit is supplied in a cardboard carton, the whole supply is zero-rated, as this is normal and necessary packaging.
But if the kit is supplied in a plastic bucket or similar reusable container, the spawn and the growing medium are still zero-rated and VAT must be accounted for on the value of the container and any other packaging costs. This is because it is a mixed supply of both standard-rated and zero-rated items. VAT guide (VAT Notice 700) gives more information about this.
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