Importing foodstuffs

Food products sometimes contain substances that are harmful to human health. If you import them, they must comply with European food safety requirements. Which import rules apply depends on the food you import.

There are product requirements for food products. And there are additional rules that depend on the type of product. It also makes a difference whether you import food from inside or outside the EU. You can read more about these issues in this article:

Product requirements

The EU has product requirements for all food products entering the European market. As an importer, you must comply with the European General Food Law. This law pays particular attention to traceability. It is important that you know where your food products come from and to whom you supply them. This way, you can quickly remove unsafe food from the market. Do your products turn out to be unsafe? Then report this to the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).

Food hygiene

If you process, transport or store food, you need a food safety plan. This is laid down in the European Food Hygiene Act. In this plan, you indicate how your company handles food safely and that you work according to the HACCP system. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points. The HACCP system maps out what can go wrong and how to prevent it.

Harmful substances

Food sometimes contains chemicals and micro-organisms that are harmful to health. For instance, heavy metals, or mould toxins and nitrate (also known as mycotoxins). These substances are called contaminants. The EU has a law that sets limits on the amount of contaminants in food. This varies for each food product. Also, the import and sale in the EU of meat containing hormones is prohibited.

Pesticides can also be harmful to humans. So, maximum quantities of pesticide residues in food apply. Some pesticides are always banned.

Novel foods

Novel foods are new food products (in Dutch) that were absent or rare in human food in the EU before 15 May 1997. You have to demonstrate that the food product is safe. You submit an application for authorisation of a novel food to the European Commission.

Genetically modified food

You need an authorisation if you want to import food containing genetically modified organisms (genetisch gemodificeerde organismen, GGOs). To do so, you submit an application (in Dutch) for market authorisation to the Food-Feed counter of Bureau GGO.


Labelling rules exist for the marketing of packaged and non-prepackaged foods in the EU. This is contained in a European law for the provision of food information. Labelling rules give consumers necessary information about the food. There are special European labelling requirements for certain foods.

Dutch legislation for the provision of food information is in the Commodities Act Decree on Food Information. This decree states that mandatory food information on pre-packed food for the Dutch market must be in Dutch. Read more about labelling rules for pre-packed foods and see the Handbook on Food Labelling (in Dutch).

Additional rules for food products

Besides product requirements, there are additional rules for food imports. These depend on the type of food. 5 examples:

1. Food of animal origin

You can only import products of animal origin such as fishery, meat and dairy products from EU-approved countries. Official organisations in these countries check whether companies in their countries meet EU food safety requirements. The NVWA does a veterinary check in the Netherlands when you import these products from outside the EU. Among other things, the NVWA checks (in Dutch) the required documents and inspects the products if necessary.

The NVWA's tool Import Veterinary Online (in Dutch) shows whether you are allowed to import food of animal origin into the EU. And if so, which rules apply. Below is an example of how to search in the tool if you want to import honey.


  • Category → animal
  • Form → other products human consumption
  • Species → honey
  • Use → human consumption
  • Destination → import

After this, enter the date of import and country of origin.

2. Fruit and vegetables

Many fresh fruit and vegetables require a health or phytosanitary certificate upon import into the EU. There are also marketing standards for the quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. When entering the Netherlands, the Quality Control Bureau (Kwaliteits-Controle-Bureau, KCB) checks the documents and products present.

3. Food supplements

If you import food supplements, you must comply with the European Directive on food supplements. EU countries have transposed this directive into national legislation. Detailed information on the European and national rules for food supplements can be found in the NVWA Handbook Food Supplements, Fortified Foods and Herbal Preparations (in Dutch).

4. Beverages

If you import beer or wine, you pay excise duty to customs. This also applies if you import spirits. In addition, you are not allowed to sell spirits to consumers just like that. For this, you need an off-licence. You may only sell alcohol to persons of 18 years or older. When importing non-alcoholic beer, soft drinks, mineral water, fruit or vegetable juices, you pay consumption tax.

5. Organic food

Organic food products must meet strict environmental requirements. For example, the use of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilisers is prohibited. As an importer of organic products, you have a certification obligation. And there are additional conditions if you import organic products from countries outside the EU.

KVK articles on food products

KVK has articles on various food products. Here you can find more information on requirements and import rules.

More on product requirements

The following organisations provide more information on product requirements:

Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI)

CBI helps exporters from developing countries export to the European market. CBI's website lists European product requirements for:

European Commission

Access2Markets contains information on product requirements and import procedures for food products. An explanation of how to use the system can be found in the article What product requirements apply to my import product?


The Import Veterinary Online tool (in Dutch) tells you whether it is possible to import food products into the EU. It also provides information on the additional requirements for importing food products.

Product liability

Do you import food products from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA. all EU countries, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway)? Or do you buy them within the EEA and give them your own label or brand name? If so, you are liable for damage caused by a defect in the products. Make sure your products meet the requirements. You can take out product liability insurance.

Quality marks

The food sector pays a lot of attention to corporate social responsibility (CSR). With a certification for your food products, you show that your products are sustainable. They are sustainable because you take account of the environment, working conditions and fair trade conditions. There are various Dutch quality marks (in Dutch) for food products.

Importing from EU countries

Within the EU, there is free movement of goods. You do not pay import duties if you import food from another member state. Declaring the goods to customs is not necessary. Your supplier usually charges 0% VAT. You give your VAT identification number to your supplier. You calculate Dutch VAT on the purchase and declare it in your VAT return. Afterwards, you can usually deduct this VAT as input tax in the same return.

Import roadmap

If you want to import food products, make arrangements with your supplier about transport, payment and other matters. If you have sufficient knowledge of the importing process, you will succeed in importing. The Import step-by-step plan guides you through the entire import process in fourteen steps. From market research to concluding a contract.

Importing from a non-EU country

If you are importing food from a country outside the EU, you have to file an import declaration with customs. Your carrier or customs agent will usually arrange this declaration for you. They charge a fee for this. Often, they will also advance any import duties and import VAT due. You will also need an EORI number. This is an identification number you need when dealing with customs.

Import duties

You usually pay import duties to customs if you import food from countries outside the EU. The amount of the import duty depends on the 10-digit taric code of the type of food. This is a commodity code you use when importing products into the EU. Taric codes are based on the 6-digit Harmonised System (HS) codes.

You usually pay import duties on the customs value of the goods. You may also pay import duties on the weight or quantity of the goods. For example, an amount per 100 kilograms or hectolitres.

Taric codes and rates of import duties can be found in the customs tariff. Click on 'nomenclature' and within that on ‘query by nomenclature'. Food products can be found under Divisions I to IV. Click on the folders to get to the taric codes and rates of import duties.

The KVK article How much import duty do I have to pay is an example of how to look up import duties in the tariff. Looking up the correct taric codes and import duties for food products is sometimes tricky. Especially of agricultural or processed agricultural products. Can you not figure it out? Then call the Customs Phone, 0800 0 143 or from abroad, +31 45 574 30 31.

Less or no import duties

Do you import food directly from countries the EU has a trade agreement with? Then you usually pay less or no import duties. This is called tariff preference. Tariff preference only applies to products of preferential origin. This means that the products have been fully grown, made or sufficiently processed in the treaty country. You demonstrate this with a preferential certificate or declaration of origin, such as a EUR.1 certificate, invoice declaration or Statement on Origin. Which certificate or declaration of origin is required depends on the treaty country. Access2Markets has a lists of countries with which the EU has a trade treaty.

The EU also works with tariff quotas (in Dutch). These are agreements between the EU and a country or group of countries outside the EU. These lead to a reduction of import duties for importing a certain quantity of a specific product. Has the quantity been reached? Then from then on you pay the normal import duty rate.

Importing: how do you do that?