DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan)

by Deputy Anthony Lawlor

for WRITTEN ANSWER on 03/12/2014

To ask the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the Revenue Commissioners’ policy of applying the 23% VAT rate to many everyday food supplements taken for health reasons, in contradiction to its own guidelines that food supplements, which provide sustenance, will be supplied at 0% VAT rate; the steps being taken by him to ensure that the 2011 VAT legislation is applied appropriately to food supplements to ensure that everyday supplements such as probiotics and glucosamine, which are classified as food products by the European Union and are regulated as such by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, are not subject to VAT; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


VAT is guided by EU VAT law, with which Irish VAT law must comply.  The EU VAT Directive generally provides that supplies of goods and services be chargeable to VAT at the standard rate but that lower rates are permitted in very limited circumstances.  Food products can only benefit from the zero rating in accordance with Article 110 of the VAT Directive which permits the retention of the zero rate for “clearly defined social reasons” where the products were liable to VAT at the zero rate on and since 1 January 1991.

As set out in the Revenue Commissioners’ eBrief 70/2011, a range of food supplements and vitamins that encourage the maintenance of health, through the sustenance derived from a normal, healthy diet, benefit from the zero rate of VAT.  The key consideration is whether the food supplement is one that forms part of a person’s normal diet for the purposes of sustenance as opposed to enhancing a person’s diet with a view to achieving a particular aim.  A food supplement taken for the purposes of muscle growth or body mass increase, or for the purposes of weight reduction or bodily sculpture, cannot benefit from the zero rate since such products are not food.  The two supplements specified in the Parliamentary Question, probiotics and glucosamine, could qualify as zero rated food supplements, or could be liable at the standard VAT rate, but there is insufficient information provided to make such a determination.  If the Deputy could provide more information on the food supplements in question, the Revenue Commissioners can advise on their correct VAT treatment as appropriate.

I would also point out that food for the purposes of interpretation of the provisions of the VAT Consolidation Act 2010 has the ordinary and everyday meaning of food. Alternative definitions in other EU legislation are not relevant to the interpretation of food for VAT purposes.