An example of European food safety requirements is traceability of the foodstuffs in all stages of production, processing, and distribution. This is necessary, because foodstuffs sometimes contain substances that are harmful to human health. General and specific requirements apply to foodstuffs.
Importers of foodstuffs have to observe the European General Food Law Regulation. It describes the framework set up to warrant food safety and a system of traceability. Traceability means that the foodstuffs can be traced during all stages of production, processing, and distribution. It makes it easier to remove unsafe foodstuffs from the market quickly. It is your duty to notify (in Dutch) the Netherlands Food and Products Safety Authority (NVWA) if any of your products turn out to be unsafe.
If you process, transport, or store foodstuffs, you need to have a food safety plan according to the EU Regulation on the hygiene of foodstuffs. You must work according to the HACCP principles (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points). This enables you to chart food safety risks and how to prevent them.
Foodstuffs may accidentally contain chemicals and micro-organisms that pose a threat to consumer health. For example: heavy metals, mycotoxins (toxic mould traces), and nitrates. These substances are known as contaminants. Ochratoxin A is an example of a mycotoxin found in coffee, tea, and wine. The EU Regulation ‘Setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs’ aims to minimise the percentage of contaminants in foodstuffs.
The import and sales of hormone produced foodstuffs is prohibited in the EU.
Pesticides and biocides can also be harmful to human health. The EU specifies the maximum percentage of pesticide residues in foodstuffs in its regulation 396/2005. Some pesticides are completely prohibited.
Novel foods (in Dutch) are foodstuffs that were used relatively rarely or not at all prior to 15 May 1997 in foodstuffs for human consumption in the EU. Examples are newly developed or improved foodstuffs, or foodstuffs from outside the EU that are new to the EU market. You may only market these products if you have European market approval. You have to demonstrate that the product is safe. The Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board CBG-MEB can inform you about the approval procedure.
Genetically modified foodstuffs
You need a licence to import foodstuffs that contain genetically modified organisms (genetisch gemodificeerde organismen, ggo’s). To get the licence, you have to apply for market access with the Food-Feed counter at Bureau GGO (in Dutch). They will forward your application to the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA. Learn more about the application process.
The European Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers applies if you want to market packaged and non-prepackaged foodstuffs in the EU. Labelling rules are in place to give consumers essential information about the foodstuff. Specific labelling requirements apply to certain foodstuffs.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch Foodstuffs Information Decree (part of the Commodities Act) is the translation of the EU regulation. It states that you have to label foodstuffs you want to market in the Netherlands in Dutch.
Read more about food labelling of prepackaged foodstuffs. Or consult the NVWA (Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority) labelling handbook 'Handboek Etikettering van levensmiddelen' (in Dutch).
Besides the general requirements, additional requirements apply to the import of foodstuffs. These depend on the type of foodstuff. Here are 4 examples.
1. Foodstuffs of animal origin
You may only import products of animal origin, such as fish, meat, and dairy products, from countries that have acquired the recognised Third Country Establishments status from the EU. Authorised organisations in these countries check if the businesses in their country meet the EU food safety requirements. The processing facilities and products of both EU and non-EU suppliers must meet European requirements on food traceability, hygiene, and maximum levels of certain contaminants and pesticides.
The NVWA performs a veterinary check on imports of animal origin into the Netherlands. It checks the accompanying documents, such as a veterinary health certificate, makes sure the imported goods’ values match the veterinary report, and sometimes performs a physical inspection of the products.
Do you import apicultural products (products from beekeeping) such as honey? The NVWA Import Veterinair Online tool (in Dutch) shows you from which non-EU countries you are allowed to import honey.
For honey, press ‘Beginnen’. Select:
- 'Categorie' → 'dierlijk'
- 'Vorm' → 'overige producten humane consumptie'
- 'Soort' → 'honing'
- 'Gebruiksdoel' → 'humane consumptie'
- 'Bestemming' → 'invoer'
The date ('datum') is set to the actual date. You can change this to your date of import. Choose the country of origin ('Land van oorsprong'). Click on ‘Bevestigen en doorgaan’. If a red cross appears at the top of the page, the import is not allowed. If a green check mark appears, import is allowed.
2. Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables often require a health certificate, a so-called phytosanitary certificate, when you want to import them into the EU. Also, fresh fruit and vegetables have to meet quality standards. The Kwaliteits-Controle Bureau KCB (Quality Control Bureau) checks products and their documentation upon entry into the Netherlands.
3. Food supplements
The EU regulation on food supplements applies when you import food supplements. Each EU country has adopted this regulation into its own legislation. In the Netherlands, the Commodities Act tells you which vitamins and minerals a food supplement may contain, and, in some cases, in what quantities.
When you import beer, wine, or liquor, you have to pay excise duty ('accijns') at customs. Also, you are not allowed to sell liquor to consumers without a liquor licence (off-licence) in a store or online. And you are only allowed to sell drinks containing alcohol to persons over 18. When you import non-alcoholic drinks, lemonade, mineral water, fruit juices, or vegetable juices, you pay consumption tax.
The following organisations can help you with information about the requirements for imported foodstuffs.
CBI (Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries)
The CBI (in Dutch: 'Centrum ter Bevordering van Import uit ontwikkelingslanden') helps companies in developing countries that want to export goods to the European market. Netherlands-based importers can use this information as well. For example, you can find European product requirements for:
- Grains, pulses, and oilseeds
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Processed fruit and vegetables
- Spices and herbs
- Fish and seafood
- Natural food additives
The NVWA Import Veterinair Online tool (in Dutch) tells you whether or not the import of animal and non-animal foodstuffs into the EU is possible. The tool also provides information on the additional requirements for food imports into the EU. The NVWA has also published a Food Safety Statement in English, that outlines your and your consumers’ responsibilities, as well as the NVWA’s role as supervisory organisation.
Make sure the products you import meet all the requirements and rules. When you import foodstuffs from countries outside the European Economic Area EEA, or purchase them inside the EEA using your own label or brand name, you are liable for damages caused by a defect in the products.
If you import organic foodstuffs (usually referred to as ‘biologisch’ in Dutch), additional requirements apply. For example, your company has to be certified. Organic foodstuffs from outside the EU must meet standards that are equivalent to the standards for EU-produced organic produce. In other words, you must be able to prove that the quality of non-EU organic foodstuffs is just as high as that of EU organic foodstuffs.
The food sector has a strong focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR). By selling foodstuffs that carry CSR-certificates, you prove that your products have been produced in a sustainable manner, taking into account the environment, working conditions, and fair trade principles. There are several standards and certificates for foodstuffs.
Paying import duties
There is a difference between goods you import from inside the EU, and goods you import from outside the EU. If you import goods from outside the EU, you have to declare the goods at customs, and you usually pay import duties. How much you have to pay depends on the foodstuff’s 10-digit TARIC code, or product import code. You pay import duties over the customs value the goods have. To find the tariff for your products, follow these steps:
- Go to the TARIC goods nomenclature database on the Dutch Customs website.
- Switch the language to English in the top right hand corner.
- Choose Nomenclature in the menu.
- Press Query by nomenclature.
You will find foodstuffs in sections I through IV. Click on the folders to find your TARIC code and the amount of import duties. For example, when you import processed agricultural products, you sometimes pay additional duties, based on the percentage of milk fat, milk protein, starches, and sugars.
The EU also uses ‘tariff quotas’. This means that if you import a certain volume of a specific product, you pay less import duty. If you import more than that volume, meaning you ‘exhausted the tariff quota’, you will have to pay the normal amount of import duties.
Do you need help finding the right TARIC code and import duties for your imported product? You can call the Customs helpline. The number is 0800–0143 (from outside the Netherlands: + 31 45 574 30 31).
Less or no import duties
When you import products from a country with which the EU has a trade agreement, usually a preferential tariff applies. You pay less or no import duties. The foodstuffs have to be of preferential origin from the trade agreement country. They have to be fully obtained, or sufficiently processed, in that country. And, the products have to be exported straight from the treaty country to the EU.
You prove preferential origin with a certificate or declaration of preferential origin: an EUR.1 certificate, invoice declaration ‘Statement on Origin’, or Certificate of Origin. Which type of declaration you need depends on the country you are importing from.
Selling inside the EU
If you sell foodstuffs to other EU member states, the national rules of the destination member state apply. Even though there is freedom of movement inside the EU, some countries may have additional product requirements. For example: Germany charges excise on consumer coffee. Also, most member states have a notification duty for marketing food supplements. The Netherlands does not. Each member state has a Product Contact Point, that can inform you what the requirements are for your product in that country.