Jun 30 12:59 PM

The offal truth: Britain urges US to address haggis

Haggis is cut open to eat at Burns Night.
Graeme Robertson / Getty Images

It's a Scottish delicacy made of chopped sheep's heart, liver and lungs with onions, oatmeal and animal fat, otherwise known as Haggis, and it remains banned in the U.S., but could that change?

The British government continued its push Monday to have the U.S. lift that ban on Scotland's national dish three months before a referendum on Scottish independence.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson — whose Conservative government backs the "Better Together" campaign to stop a Scottish breakaway on September 18 — said reversing the ban could net Scotland millions of dollars a year. 

The savory mixture is stuffed into a sheep's stomach, boiled for several hours and served with turnips and potatoes — or neeps and tatties, as they are known in Scottish slang. However, the consumption of sheep's lungs has been banned in the U.S. since 1971.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in a statement to Al Jazeera, said the reason for the ban is due to the structure of the sheep lungs, which make them “impractical to inspect” for safe consumption. 

“Meat inspection pathologists found that stomach contents, dust, molds and lesions could exist in the deepest and smallest lung air tubes, and the USDA concluded that classifying all lungs as unfit for human food is in the best interest of public health,” the statement read. 

“It’s tragic because Americans have no sense of what Haggis is, they’re not allowed to use the ingredients that are essential to the product and so it comes out like a liver pâté,” Alan Bain, chairman of the New York-based American-Scottish Foundation, told Al Jazeera.

Bain, whose organization is a not-for-profit organization aimed at establishing links and strengthening ties between Scotland and the United States, described the famous dish for those who have never eaten it. He said there are two essentials — the Haggis itself, which he described as dryish in taste and mashed turnips.

“It would be like sort of eating a bowl of rice, but you put that with mashed turnips, which is very moist. So you combine the two in your mouth and they work very well together," Bain said.

Haggis is typically served on Burns Night, a day that commemorates the birthday of Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns, and is accompanied by his poem "Address To A Haggis" and a glass of whisky, but it is widely available all year round.

Bain said the closest item to the real thing that you can find in the U.S. is Stahly’s Haggis, which comes in a tin.

"We’ve got that for our Burns night for years. People eat that very happily," Bain said. "The other thing that we discovered for our little cocktail reception, we would get Stahly haggis and put it in little puff pastry pies. People didn’t know what they were eating. They loved them!"

Paterson, for his part, said, “I share many haggis producers' disappointment that American diners are currently unable to enjoy the taste of Scotland's wonderful national dish in their own country.

"I am meeting my U.S. counterpart today to discuss how we can begin exporting it, particularly as so many Americans enjoy celebrating their Scottish heritage.”

The talks come as part of wider negotiations between the European Union and the United States on a trade deal. Nearly nine million people in the United States are thought to claim Scottish ancestry.

With Agence France-Presse


Scotland, United Kingdom

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter