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US not ready to lift ban on Scottish haggis

Category: Scotland

Published: 26th Jan 2010 13:49:42

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.'"

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.

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.

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".

"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 over 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."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

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

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

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

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BBC News, 2010. US not ready to lift ban on Scottish haggis [Online] (Updated 26th Jan 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/13574/US-not-ready-to-lift-ban-on-Scottish-haggis [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]

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