Importing food supplements

Food supplements are vitamins, minerals, or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect. Many consumers use them to supplement their daily diet. Various rules and requirements apply to the purchase of food supplements from abroad.

Many supplements come from overseas, with the USA being a particularly big producer.

In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about importing and marketing food supplements.  

Product requirements 

Food supplements have to be safe, so they have to meet various rules before they can be placed on the market. First of all, they have to comply with European food legislation, as well as the European directive for food supplements. EU countries have turned this directive into national legislation. The Netherlands has:

  • the Warenwetbesluit voedingssupplementen (the Food Supplements Commodities Act Decree)
  • the Warenwetregeling voedingssupplementen (Commodities Act Regulation on Food supplements)
  • the Warenwetregeling vrijstelling voedingssupplementen (Commodities Act Regulation on Exemption of Food supplements)
  • and article 10 of the Warenwetbesluit Bereiding en behandeling van levensmiddelen (Commodities Act Decree on Preparation and Treatment of Foodstuffs) 

If your food supplements contain herbal ingredients, they also have to comply with the Herbal Preparations (Commodities Act) Decree (Warenwetbesluit Kruidenpreparaten, in Dutch). 

Other countries may have different rules on the presence of certain substances, on the minimum and maximum levels of vitamins and minerals, or on the use of plant-based ingredients in food supplements. This can make foreign food supplements (from EU or non-EU countries) unsuitable for the Dutch market. 

Food supplements may contain chemicals and microorganisms that are harmful to consumers' health. These substances are called contaminants and the EU has introduced legislation to reduce contaminants in food to a minimum.  

Novel foods 

Novel foods are new food products or ingredients that were absent or uncommon in human food within the EU before 15 May 1997. The Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board (CBG-MED) provides a definition of all these novel foods. If your food supplements contain one or more ingredients classified as novel ingredient, then you need authorisation for this ingredient before you can take the product to market.  

HACCP 

If you process, transport, or store food supplements, you are required to have a food safety plan under European food hygiene legislation. You also have to work according to the HACCP-(Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) principles that allow you to identify and prevent food safety risks.  

Labelling 

General requirements for the labelling of food products also apply to food supplements, as well as specific labeling requirements from the Commodities Act Decree on Food supplements (in Dutch). For example, the label must clearly state all substances found in your food supplements. They are not medicinal and you are not allowed to make medical claims (Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, NVWA, in Dutch) on these products.  

Handbook of Food supplements 

Extensive information on European and national laws and regulations on food supplements can be found in the Handbook of Food supplements, Fortified Foods and Herbal Preparations (in Dutch) of the NVWA.  

Advice and guidance 

There are many companies that can help you comply with the product requirements for food supplements and relevant hygiene rules (HACCP). To find them, simply Google ‘food supplements legislation consultancy in the Netherlands’.  

Selling food supplements in the EU 

If you want to sell your food supplements in other EU member states, keep the laws and regulations of the destination country in mind. Even though there is free movement of goods within the EU, the product requirements for food supplements may differ from one member state to another. Most member states also have a notification requirement for marketing food supplements. The Netherlands does not. To find out more about different member states and their requirements for your product, contact the Product Contact Point.  

Product liability 

Do you import food supplements from non-EEA countries? Or buy them within the EEA but use your own label or brand name? Then you are liable for any damage caused by a defect in the product. Legally speaking, you are considered the producer. So ensure that your product is fully compliant with all requirements and regulations.  

Importing food supplements from EU countries 

There is free movement of goods in the EU. You do not have to pay import duties when importing food supplements from another EU member state. Also, you do not have to submit an import declaration to Dutch Customs. Your supplier will usually charge 0% VAT, but only if you have given them your VAT identification number. If you add Dutch VAT (9%) to the purchase and declare this in your VAT return (in Dutch), you will usually be allowed to deduct it as input tax in the same return.  

Importing from non-EU countries 

If you import food supplements from a non-EU country like the United States or Canada, you must declare them to Customs. Your carrier or customs broker (FENEX, in Dutch) will usually file this import declaration on your behalf for a fee, as well as advancing any import duties and VAT that may be due. You will also need an EORI number, a mandatory identification number for anyone dealing with Customs.  

Paying import duties 

If you import food supplements from non-EU countries, you will usually have to pay import duties. How much depends on the 10-digit HS code (or TARIC code) of the product you are importing. Customs use these codes to classify goods, but finding the right HS code  can be difficult. 

Food supplements may be classified under several different commodity codes, depending on the substances they contain. Many food supplements have a commodity code beginning with 21069092. Imported goods get an additional two-digit tag (40, 50, 55, 65 or 85), depending on certain substances that they do or do not contain to a certain extent). Products beginning with commodity code 21069092 are subject to an import duty of 12.8% when imported from a non-EU country. 

Some food supplements, on the other hand, are classified under code 21069098, with the difference between commodity codes 21069092 and 21069098 depending on the fat content derived from milk or sucrose content. For food supplements with commodity codes beginning with 21069098, different import duty rates apply (with the possible addition of agricultural duties). 

The commodity codes mentioned here are certainly not the only codes for food supplements. If you want to know what commodity code applies to you and what import duty rate you will have to pay, you can request Binding Tariff Information (BTI, in Dutch) from Dutch Customs. 

Import duties are based on the customs value of a particular product: the purchase price plus shipping and any insurance costs up to the border (or port) of entry into the EU. 

For a full overview of commodity codes and the corresponding import duty rates, refer to the Tariff Manual (in Dutch) of the Tax and Customs Administration. If you cannot figure it out yourself, call the Customs Information Line 

Country of origin 

Do you import food supplements from a country the EU has a trade agreement with? You may have to pay lower import duties or even have full exemption from import duties. But only if you have them shipped straight from that country. The supplements must also be of preferential origin from the that country. This means that they must have been produced or sufficiently processed in there. You demonstrate this with a preferential certificate or declaration of origin, such as a EUR.1 certificate, invoice declaration, or Certificate of Origin. The EU does not have a trade agreement with the USA, which means you will have to pay 12.8% import duty when importing food supplements with commodity codes beginning with 21069092 from the US. 

Canada does have a trade agreement with the EU. You will not have to pay any import duties when importing food supplements with commodity codes beginning with 21069092 that are of preferential Canadian origin from Canada. The EU has signed trade agreements with many countries. Depending on the treaty country from which you are importing, supplements of preferential origin may be subject to an import duty exemption or to reduced import duty rates.  

Veterinary inspection 

Do your food supplements contain ingredients of animal origin? Then a veterinary inspection may be required upon entry into the EU. The purpose of this inspection is to prevent animal products that are harmful to public health from entering the country and to prevent the spread of animal diseases.

Veterinary inspection is exempt under certain conditions for a food supplement that contains both products of plant and animal origin. 

Food supplements from non-EU countries that require veterinary inspection may only be imported through an approved Border Control Post (BCP, Grenscontrolepost GCP, in Dutch) The shipment must also be pre-registered and be accompanied by a  Common Health Entry Document, (Gemeenschappelijk Gezondheidsdocument van Binnenkomst, GGB). In the Netherlands, veterinary inspections are performed by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). They check the accompanying documents and do a physical inspection of the products if necessary. NVWA charges a fee for its services. 

Specialised freight forwarders and customs agents are familiar with the process of clearing veterinary products and the requirements surrounding veterinary inspections. To find an expert, try Googling (‘veterinary freight forwarder’ or in Dutch ’expediteur veterinair’).  

VAT when importing non-EU goods 

When you import food supplements into the Netherlands, you pay Dutch import VAT (9%). You are allowed to deduct this VAT as input tax in your VAT return, provided that you are entitled to deduct VAT. If you regularly import goods from non-EU countries, you can apply for an article 23 permit from the Dutch tax administration to avoid having to pay for VAT at the time of import. Instead, you can file the VAT with your VAT return.

Need more information? 

The NVWA (in Dutch) investigates if food supplements contain banned substances, and they check their composition and labelling. 

NPN (in Dutch) is a trade association for manufacturers and importers of food supplements. Members and non-members can request information and advice on all rules and requirements.

Importing: how do you do that?