An important tax issue: are fish livestock?

October 22, 2009

Fish food

Inspired by my previous post about statutory definitions of stock, I came across the 1949 High Court case of Deputy Commissioner of Taxation v Zest Manufacturing.

The issue before the High Court was whether the respondent’s fish food fell within a sales tax exemption that was provided for “food for livestock” – an important commercial matter. In the end, at least for the purposes of sales tax, the Court found that fish were not livestock (and there was no tax exemption on their food).  Some of the judicial reasoning is instructive:

Latham CJ

Fish are animals. They are not vegetables or minerals or creatures of indeterminate classification. Fish are bred for commercial disposition in the same manner as cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, domestic poultry and various other birds, such as pigeons, budgerigars &c. [budgerigars??]

Dixon J

The word “livestock,” according to its dictionary meanings, describes domestic animals generally; animals of any kind kept or dealt in for use or profit; the animals on a farm; and is also used as a collective term for horses cattle and sheep bred for use or profit: Oxford English Dictionary s.v. “livestock” and “stock,” par. 54. It does not strike me as in accordance with ordinary English usage to apply the word to fish; though perhaps there is not much reason why the expression should not be extended to include fish, if the context and subject matter suggested it. In my opinion, however, the context is quite opposed to assigning to the word “livestock” a meaning wide enough to include fish

Williams J

Then there is item (13), perhaps an unlucky one for the fish, which includes in goods for use in the maintenance of livestock veterinary instruments, appliances and materials of a kind ordinarily used by veterinary surgeons. Veterinary surgeons would not, I should think, ordinarily include fish amongst their patients. The context of the paragraph brands, I think, the livestock intended to benefit. Fish have a natural aversion to being caught. In the present case it is desired to catch the fish in the network of exemptions, but in my opinion the attempt fails. The paragraph as a whole and its component parts is appropriate only to animals which inhabit the land and quite inappropriate to animals which inhabit the water.

Photograph used under creative commons licence: http://www.flickr.com/photos/liz/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

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