Last night, millions of Scots around the world raised their kilts to the legendary Scottish poet Robert Burns. January 25, or Burns Night to Scots, is a Scottish holiday more widely celebrated than Saint Andrew’s Day, the official national holiday of Scotland. The celebration is famous for the “Burns supper”, a ceremony which includes haggis (internal organs of a sheep), scotch whiskey, and the recitation of Burns’ poetry.
However, it has been 21 years since American Scots have had a proper Burns supper. During the mad cow crisis of the 1980s-1990s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) imposed a ban on haggis because it feared the meat could be lethal.
Traditional haggis is made by simmering sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. In 1989, however, the USDA determined that sheep organs used in haggis were at risk for carrying scrapie, a close variant of mad cow, and were banned on health grounds.
From 1989 until now, American Scots were forced to celebrate without true haggis. But the Daily Telegraph reported Sunday that the USDA will most likely lift its ban on haggis.
A recent ruling from the World Organization for Animal Health that says sheep organs are safe to eat has caused the USDA to reconsider. A spokeswoman for the USDA told the Telegraph that it was reviewing its regulations in line with the ruling and was quoted saying, “At this time, there are new regulations being drafted.”
Since the ban was first enforced, American Scots – of whom there are estimated to be more than 9 million – have had to celebrate Burns Night without authentic haggis. Stories emerged of desperate Scots smuggling in haggis from the homeland or secretly bootlegging their own.
Meanwhile, US butchers tried and failed to replicate the taste with other animals or parts.
“Haggis here doesn’t taste quite the same as it does back home,” said Laura Kral, a restaurant owner in New York City who has tried making her own haggis. “We make our own haggis with ground sheep’s heart and liver, mixed with Scottish oatmeal and black pepper. But it is missing something.”
Fortunately for American Scots, that missing something may soon be returned.
“It’s time for the U.S. authorities to deliver a Burns Night boost and recognize that Scottish haggis is outstanding quality produce,” said Scotland’s rural affairs secretary, Richard Lochhead.
“It was a silly ban, which meant a lot of people have never tasted the real thing,” Margaret Frost, of the Scottish American Society in Ohio, told the Guardian. “We have had to put up with the U.S. version, which is made from beef and is bloody awful.”
Sales of haggis in the United Kingdom last year brought in the equivalent of $14 million, up 19% from 2008. The news that the USDA may lift the ban has haggis producers giddy.
“I am greatly encouraged to hear that US the authorities are planning a review of the unfair ban on haggis imports,” Lochhead continued. “We believe that reversing the ban in Scottish producers and allow American consumers to sample our world-renowned national dish.”
The USDA contacted Food Safety News on January 26th with this statement: “At
mso-bidi-font-family:Arial”>this time, haggis is still banned in the U.S. The
APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) rule covers all
ruminant imports, which includes haggis. It is currently being reviewed to
incorporate the current risk and latest science related to these regulations.
There is no specific time frame for the completion of this review.”