Personal food imports - checks and penalties

Carrying banned animal products is illegal, and there are heavy penalties for smuggling. If you fail to declare any products that are not permitted, you could face severe delays and/or you will be liable to action for a criminal offence including prosecution.

Entry controls 

The EU operates a system of strict controls on legal imports of animal products including meat. All products from non-EU countries can only be imported through designated BIPs, where they undergo veterinary checks by an official veterinary surgeon to make sure import conditions are met.

All consignments are subject to documentary and identity checks at the BIP, and to prescribed levels of physical checks according to the type of product and country of origin. Imports are only permitted from those non-EU countries and product plants that have been authorised by the EU for the importation of the product in question. Such authorisation is based on guarantees to the EU about hygiene standards.

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has responsibility in Northern Ireland, both at BIPs and other points of entry, for detecting smuggled goods from non-EU countries. This includes postal imports whether at postal depots, ports or airports. United Kingdom Border Agency (UKBA)  are responsible for enforcing controls under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Seizure of goods

It is important you declare any products you are bringing in from outside the EU. If you are unsure about any of the products you are bringing in, speak to a DARD Officer at your point of entry. If you declare any illegal products to DARD, they will take them away and destroy them and no further action will be taken.

If three friends arrived at customs together and one of them has 60kg of smoked salmon this would be permitted, even though the total amount was carried by one person. However the three people must all be present. One cannot be on a separate flight or a different train or ship.

The concession will be determined on the gross weight including the packaging, for example, fish packed with ice - if the gross weight of the fish and the ice together exceeds the concession, the whole amount will be seized. If the gross weight including the box exceeds the concession, the whole amount will be seized.

DARD will take a pragmatic approach to seizing other items mixed or packed with animal products. However, if clothing or the bag appear to be contaminated ie there is blood on these items, then they will be seized and destroyed. For instance, if meat has been packed with fish of less than 20kg, cross-contamination will mean the fish will also be seized.

Products not carried personally

The rules apply to any products sent either to a private, named individual by post, courier service or private carrier (including those ordered online) and even if they are for yourself, bought in a shop (including at an airport), home-grown/made or vacuum packed.

Checks on mail arriving at international sorting offices are carried out by DARD Officers looking for all contraband products. Illegal products will be seized and destroyed and you will be issued with a seizure notice by post.
If you are concerned the products in the parcel may have been illegally sent to this country or if the products do not appear to be healthy you should notify your local Environmental Health Office. They should send an officer to seize and destroy the parcel.

Exempted food products

The following products are exempt from the rules:

  • bread (but not sandwiches filled with meat or dairy products)
  • cakes (but not if they contain fresh cream*)
  • biscuits
  • chocolate and confectionery (but not if the sweets are made with high levels of unprocessed dairy ingredients)*
  • unfilled gelatine capsules
  • food supplements packaged for the final consumer containing small amounts of an animal product (such as fish oil capsules) and those including glucosamine, chondroitin or chitosan
  • meat extracts in liquid or spreadable form (but not pate or meat concentrates eg stock cubes, gravy granules or flavouring sachets or any that contain pieces of meat)
  • olives stuffed with fish
  • pasta and noodles, if processed or cooked (but not if mixed or filled with meat or meat products)
  • soup, stocks and flavourings packaged for the final consumer containing meat extracts, meat concentrates, animal fats or fish oils, powders or extracts (but not if pieces of meat/fish for example, when dissolved in water)
  • any other food product not containing any fresh or processed meat or dairy and with less than 50 per cent of processed egg or fishery products

*Confectionery, chocolate or cakes (including Christmas cake, Simnel cake or cakes containing nuts) are permitted from any country as long as they are for your personal consumption and do not contain fresh cream or high levels of dairy products. Confectionery that contain high levels of dairy products include Burfi,Gulab Jaman, Halwah or Halva, Ras Malai, RasGullah, Ladoos, and Chum Chum.

Information on importing nuts can be found at Trade information: nuts (Food Standards Agency).

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