Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

US not ready to lift ban on Scottish haggis

Burns Night in London, 2004

By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News

Scots Americans were rejoicing last night as news circulated that the US government was planning to lift a 21-year ban on Scottish haggis. Just one problem… it may not happen.

"Yes, haggis, I was briefed on haggis," said George W Bush before the G8 summit at Gleneagles in 2005.

Was he tempted to try it, asked the interviewer from the Times? No, he wasn't.

He went on: "Generally, on your birthday, my mother used to say: 'What do you want to eat?' and I don't ever remember saying: 'Haggis, mom.'"

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care, And dish them out their bill o' fare, Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware That jaups in luggies; But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer, Gie her a haggis!
Final verse
Robert Burns

Mr Bush reflects the uneasy attitude many people have towards the Scottish national dish.

Nonetheless, at Burns suppers around the world last night, large numbers of people will have tucked in, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, after hailing the bulging delicacy with Robert Burns' eight-verse Address to a Haggis.

For many of the six million Scots in America, who last night enjoyed the puff of "warm-reeking, rich" steam as the knife went in, the ultimate in patriotism is a haggis from Scotland itself.

'Incorrect' reports

So, reports that the US is about to lift a ban on British beef and lamb - imposed in 1989 at the height of the BSE outbreak - were greeted with a chorus of delight (and some irony) on Twitter.

Och Aye! US planning to relax haggis ban... The 'great chieftain o' the puddin' will soon be back!
A Tennessee response to the lifted haggis ban "No More Bootleg Sheep Guts!"
ShipCapt: Thank GOD the wait is over! Haggis Allowed In The U.S. After 21-Year Ban
To celebrate US lifts ban on haggis.Thats a good thing?

Renowned haggis producers Macsween's of Edinburgh were also sizing up the US market, and reckoning it to be "enormous".

But just as Burns Night was getting under way in the US, and reaching its climax in the UK, an e-mail came through from the US Department of Agriculture, quashing the good news.

"Recently, several news articles have incorrectly stated that the US will be relaxing or lifting its ban on Scottish haggis," a spokeswoman wrote.

A review of the ban on beef and lamb products was under way, she said, but there was no specific time frame for its completion.

Scots Jump for Joy as US Plans to Lift Haggis Ban (Sphere)
Haggis, a Scottish staple that's been banned here, may soon reappear on American tables (New York Daily News)
U.S. to Relax Its Haggis Ban: Lamb's Lungs All Around! (The Village Voice)

Dr Christopher Robinson of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service explained that a proposal to allow imports of "ruminant products" from the UK may be put out for public consultation some time this year.

Nothing more definite than that.

But there appears to be another problem for the most traditional haggis producers - since 1971 the US has banned food made with sheep's lung.

The classic recipe calls for the heart, liver and lung of the sheep to be chopped up and combined with pinhead (not rolled) oats, onions, suet, spices and seasoning, then stuffed in a sheep's stomach.

Offal culture

Haggis producer Fraser MacGregor of Cockburn's in Dingwall says, "If it hasn't got lamb's lung, it isn't haggis." It makes up 10 to 15% of the entire recipe, he says.

So to open the path for Transatlantic trade in true haggis, two rules will have to be changed, and as far as the BBC has been able to determine, only one is currently even being reviewed.

Even supposing the US were to lift all haggis trade barriers, it's not clear how big a hit the dish would be with US consumers. The New York Times once wrote that it had "an august reputation for repulsiveness".

Haggis in ox intestine casing
Haggis was once stuffed in a sheep's stomach, but this is now uncommon

"They don't have the same culture of eating offal," points out Jo Macsween.

"In Europe there is respect for the whole animal and nothing should be wasted, in America it's more prime cuts, fillet and sirloin."

When Americans try it, she says, they invariably love it and cannot understand their government's import ban.

The problem, perhaps, is getting them to try it in the first place - as with George Bush

Lesley MacLennan Denninger, chief of the New York Caledonian Club, says her club would love to ship over a real Scottish haggis for Burns Night.

She'd also like it to be widely available in the US, to help American producers - who sometimes take sirloin beef as their main ingredient - raise their game.

"I think it might improve some of the American haggis if they could find out what it tasted like," she said.

"I have had some that tasted OK, even some out of a can.

"I don't want to knock American haggis, but generally it's not the same, it tastes more like liver pate."

A selection of your comments:

Yes, I've felt deprived of true haggis for more than two decades. If only a proper recipe were available, we enthusiasts across the pond could search for suppliers of required ingredients, create a market, and avoid the insult of pseudo-haggis. Once before I die, I want to make a haggis here in the US which a Scot finds palatable, nay, delectable! TRUE HAGGIS OR NAUGHT!
Average American, Southern Piedmont, USA

For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive,never will we on any conditions be brought under tyrannical dominion.It is in truth not for glory,nor riches,nor honors that we are fighting,but for FREEDOM FOR THE HAGGIS,for that alone,which no honest man gives up but with life itself.
jeff arment, sahuarita az U.S.A.

It always amazes me that North Americans cringe at the thought of eating haggis yet don't think twice about eating all kinds of nasty processed food! Tuna that's been in a can for 3 years? Bring it on! Fake cheese smothered on fake meat? That's the ticket! But parts of an animal's body people the world over eat? Gross!

Go figure...
Anne, NY

I am a man of Scottish ancestry until they serve a Haggis, then, by default, I am a man of Irish ancestry.
Milton Findley, Milwaukee, WI, USA

So you like Haggis? May I recommend Pennsylvanian "Scrapple"? It's a soft sausage loaf of minced meat, grains and seasonings rumored to 'use everything in the pig but the squeal.' Mighty Tasty.

Bring on the Haggis! I'd love to try some!

Sarah Getz, Philadelphia, PA - USA

No matter where you go in the world, there's a dish the residents love that others find the very thought of distasteful. I'd love to have a proper haggis here, whether on Burns Nicht or some other time. As for natto -- a Japanese dish of fermented soybean paste with the consistency of mucus and the smell of an old nappy -- or anything made with Velveeta (tm), others can have 'em!
Pat McGroin, Austin TX USA

It's a bit odd that the government still bans British beef for fear of BSE. And yet, a few weeks back (feeling adventurous) I was able to buy tacos con cebeza (Mexican food made with beef brains) in San Francisco. I have to say, I prefer haggis (which I find not that dissimilar in taste to Cajun Boudin).
Steve Croft, Oakland, CA USA

I have eaten haggis in Edinburgh, and though it was very good. It is a step up from hot dogs and bologna, and other processed meats here in the US, that include everything except the squeal. After all it is a sausage type meat product as I understand it.
Theresa P, Simpsonville, SC

I first encountered Haggis in Wyck - whenever the fishing boats came in, the fishermen made a beeline for the harbour chip shop, for a healthy dose of Haggis and chips. As a result of a friendly bet between sailors, i lost, and had to try it...

Since then, i have enjoyed Haggis either with chips, or with neeps and tatties, always when in Scotland, and whenever i can get it here in Denmark (Yes, Vikings and Scotchmen seem to have things in common)

Lift that silly ban, please. If not completely, then at least allow a good Haggis to be made from local produce. Please have faith and be brave, dear cousins from the colonies, and sample the stuff - this is good for you!
Kim B Christensen, Soenderborg, Denmark

Just 4 days ago i made haggis right here in Brooklyn. Admittedly it was without lungs and stuffed in a beef bung rather than stomach but it was good. As an expat i enjoy my annual search around butchers shops for offal, and their slightly bemused look when i read them my shopping list.
Charlie Marshall, Brooklyn, New York

I have had the occasion to have haggis and really like it, despite my cringing at the list of ingredients. I remind myself that I eat hot dogs and sausages and the cringing stops.
Lisa Combest, Humble, Tx USA

We live in a totally paranoid litiganous country here. We can't even buy decent tripe anymore, except for the honeycomb. Non pasteurized cheese is also banned. Be wary of the EU regulations! Soon you'll end up as bound up in red tape as we are.
Chef Sun, United States

I have been to at least 30 different countries on 5 continents and always tried to sample the local dishes. Not once have I ever encountered sheep lungs on the menu. Im sure somewhere outside of Scotland its enjoyed but "all over the world" is a bit of a stretch. Also, what is acceptable and what isn't varies from person to person, state to state, country to country. Thank goodness for that fact. Without it we wouldn't have diversity.
TJ, Atlanta, GA USA

Why dosen't the Co. that makes Haggis just start a factory in the US. That way they side step the import laws, American Scots get their haggis and every one wins.
A.C.philp, Mt. Pleasant, SC USA

I think it would be great to have something different here, like the article said we really do waste a lot of meat by only using the best parts. I have never had it but would at least try it. And, why should the US government decide what we can and cant eat, it's not like the dish is "unsafe" its just not as big a part of the US culture.
Travis, Travelers Rest, SC, USA

I worked here in a pub for years and we always had a Robbie Burns dinner where Haggis was served. While i admit I was hesitant at first I found it to be good, and certainly no more frightening than eating a hot dog if you are talking offal.
Bill , Kingston, On. Canada

We had a three pound Haggis for dinner complete with tatties and neeps. It was awesome even after it had walked around the table a couple of times.
Peter, Montreal

Haggis may well be like the bagpipe. There are those who love and the rest. Me, I love both and am one of the few in the area who rides along with tapes of master pipers going. I would love to get good scottish haggis.
Wade Whitlock, Aberdeen, MD USA

I have given up trying to convince Americans that there are many wonderful dishes that can be created utilizing offal. I even have to special order my organs from a Mennonite farmer in Pennsylvania, which pleased him to no end as he was previously at a loss to know what to do with all his 'extras'.

I just think that Americans are spoiled; they have never had to take into account the act of frugality. Their loss in my opinion!
Alex Riboni, Washington DC

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