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HMRC internal manual

VAT Food

HM Revenue & Customs
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Items benefiting from the relief: products used for animal feed and other purposes: food and medicine

The borderline between foods and medicines

Medicines are often administered to farm animals in feed because this is the simplest way of making them acceptable. These would include antibiotics (sometimes marketed as growth promoters), antihelmintics (wormers) and other anti-parasitic preparations and oral vaccines. The products may be provided as medicines to be added by the farmer, or pre-mixed into a specialised feed: for example, a normal compound feed may include an anti-parasitic compound.

Identification of a veterinary medicine is relatively straightforward: it will be taken to cure or prevent an ailment and, while it may be administered regularly on a preventative basis, will be given in carefully regulated dosages with a particular therapeutic end in view. The packaging or accompanying documentation will carry dosage instructions and will identify the condition the product is intended to cure or guard against.

The borderline between a medicated feed (or a feed containing a medical product) and a straightforward feed may be less clear-cut. In considering such products, it is necessary to decide whether a product is primarily a feed (taken for purposes of nutrition) or a medicine (taken to cure or prevent a specific medical condition).


Purely medicinal products are always standard-rated. Veterinary drugs, like human drug preparations, are strictly controlled and all animal medicines must obtain a marketing authorisation from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). If your trader is a manufacturer, he will certainly know whether or not any such authorisation is required for his product. If he is an importer or distributor, it will be apparent from either the packaging or other accompanying documentation on which the product licence or authorisation number will be shown. In case of difficulty you should contact theLiability PolicyTeam.

Feed products containing medicine

Feedstuffs containing medicines may be zero or standard-rated according to whether they are used primarily as a feed, or for their medicinal properties. In this area, our policy follows that of DEFRA (and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate): we class a product as a medicine (and therefore standard-rated) if it has a marketing authorisation issued by the VMD (or DEFRA).

Products making medicinal claims

If an animal feed product makes medicinal claims, it is only a medicine for the purposes of VAT if it has the above marketing authorisation. VMD guidance views such products as medicinal by function or medicinal by presentation; but a product is not legally a medicine unless it has that authorisation.

Growth promoters

A low-level infection in an animal might not produce any recognisable symptoms, but it can retard normal development so that the animal does not thrive or put on weight as it should. Antibiotics are therefore regularly incorporated into animal feed, not to counter any specific infection or medical condition, but on a prophylactic basis, to prevent the onset and development of any such sub-clinical condition. Because the farmer’s purpose in doing this is to avoid the setback in the animal’s development, such preparations are frequently known as growth promoters. Since an antibiotic is primarily a medicine, such growth promoters are standard-rated. Feed containing growth promoters should be judged according to the principles of Probiotics.


Probiotics, as the name implies, work in the opposite way to antibiotics by increasing the number of bacteria in the host, primarily the beneficial lactic-acid-producing micro-organisms (lactobacilli) in the digestive tract (the same family of organisms as the lactobacillus acidophilus found in live yoghurt).

They normally take the form of a powder (sometimes a capsule or gel) containing live micro-organisms, either alone or in conjunction with a mineral or vitamin supplement. Their effect is to increase the efficiency of the digestive tract, improving the animal’s resistance to disease and countering the detrimental effects of stress.

They may be used on an occasional basis to aid the recovery of animals which are

  • convalescing from some illness (particularly if treatment for that illness involved the administration of antibiotics),
  • suffering nutritional or digestive deficiency, or
  • simply not thriving as they should.

Probiotics are not considered by DEFRA to be medicinal products, and therefore do not require a product licence or marketing authorisation. However, since they are not a source of direct nourishment in their own right but act by improving an animal’s digestive efficiency, they are not considered to be foodstuffs for VAT purposes, and are standard-rated.

There are many probiotic products on the market, and their composition varies, but the one thing they will all have in common (and their identifying feature) will be the inclusion of live micro-organisms. This will be shown in the product’s listed ingredients.