Seeds and plants that can be zero-rated (VAT Notice 701/38)

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. Overview

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:

  • plants
  • 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. General

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.

3.4.1 Linseed

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.

3.4.2 Flax

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)
Sweet chestnut

3.6 Rootstock

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. Herbs

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
Angelica Angelica archangelica
Anise Pimpinella anisum
Anise hyssop Agastache anethiodora
Basil any plants of Ocimum genus
Borage any plants of Borago genus
Caraway Carum carvi
Cardamom Elettaria cardamomum
Cardoon Cardoon bianco avorio
Celery wild Apium graveolens
Celery wild alpine Apium Australis
Chervil Anthriscus cerefolium
Chicory Cichorium intybus
Chives Allium genus
Coriander Coriandrum sativum
Cumin Cuminum cyminum
Curry leaf Chalcas koenigii
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Dill Anethum graveolens
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Fenugreek Trigonella foenum-graecum
Garlic Allium sativum
Ginger Zingiber officinale
Good King Henry Chenopodium bonushenricus
Horseradish Cochlearia armoracia
Lemon grass Cymbopogon citratus
Liquorice Glycyrrhiza glabra
Lovage Levisticum officinalis
Marjoram all plants of the Origanum genus
Mint all plants of the Mentha genus
Onion all edible plants of the Allium genus
Orache Atriplex hortensis
Oregano Origanum dictamnus
Parsley Carum petroselinum
Pennyroyal Mentha pulegium
Rocket Eruca sativa
Rosemary all plants of the Rosmarinus genus
Saffron Crocus sativus
Sage Salvia officinalis
Salad burnet Poterium sanguisorba
Savory Plants of the Saturela genus
Skirret Sium sisarum
Sorrel Plants of the Rumex genus
Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus
Thyme all plants of the Thymus genus
Watercress Nasturtium officinale

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.

Number Condition
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
Alecost Tanacetum balsamita
Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum
Allspice Pimenta officinalis only
Asafoetida Ferula asafoetida
Bay Laurus nobilis
Bergamot Plants of the Monarda genus
Bistort Persicaria bistorta
Catmint Nepeta cataria
Chamomile Anthemis nobilis Matricaria recutita
Comfrey All plants of Symphytum genus
Clove pink Dianthus carophyllus
Clover All edible plants of Trifolium genus
Cowslip Primula veris
Curry plant Helichrysum italicum
Elder Sambucus nigra
Feverfew Chrysanthemum parthenium
Hop Humulus lupulus
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Juniper Juniperus communis
Landcress Barbarea praelox
Lavender Any plants of the Lavendula genus
Lemon balm Melissa officinalis
Lemon verbena Aloysia triphylla
Marigold, pot Calendula officinalis
Melilot Melilotus officinalis
Nasturtium, salad Tropaeolum majus
Pelarqonium (scented) Scented plants of the Pelargonium genus
Purslane Portulaca oleracea
Rue Ruta graveolens
Sweet Cecily Myrrhis odorata
Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Violet (sweet) Viola odorata and viola tricolor
Woodruff Asperula odorata

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. Seeds

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. Miscellaneous

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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Published 7 November 2011