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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

HM Revenue & Customs
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Food: Items benefiting from the relief: What is food?: Food of a kind used for human consumption: Human consumption

General item 1 allows relief to food of a kind used for human consumption. This particular phraseology (rather than the simpler food for human consumption) was chosen deliberately to eliminate end-use considerations from zero-rating. As long as a product would generally be classed as food at the time it is being supplied, it may be zero-rated even if it might be used for a non-food purpose.

The case of G R Soni (MAN/78/0251), dealt with the liability of paan, a traditional Indian delicacy. Paan consists of a mixture of betel nut, coconut, rose petals, sugar and honey wrapped in betel leaves: it is eaten at the end of a meal, being chewed until the flavour has been released and swallowed; then the remaining fibrous constituents are spat out. As betel nut is a well-known natural stimulant, HM Customs and Exicse saw the product as primarily taken for its stimulatory, rather than nutritional, qualities, and therefore not food.

However, the tribunal considered that stimulatory qualities would not necessarily preclude a product from being food. To the tribunal, the important test was an objective one - not what the consumers thought would be the effect of eating the product, but the actual nature and content of the product itself. In that context, the tribunal found that the product as a whole did have measurable nutritional content, was not particularly toxic and, given the circumstances of its use as a component of a meal, would generally be considered to be food.