U.S. reviewing ban on Scottish haggis

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Just how risky is the Scottish national dish?

At the request of Scottish officials, the U.S. government will sort that out as it reviews its ban on haggis, a sort of sausage made by rolling cooked sheep's offal -- the liver, heart and lungs -- in oats and pepper, then stuffing it into beef intestine and boiling it.

Not that most Americans have exactly been clamoring for it. But word that the U.S. Department of Agriculture would reconsider its ban -- which dates to the U.K.'s mad cow disease scare of the late 1980s -- did stir some excitement with Scottish producers.

"This is long overdue and I'm glad the U.S. authorities are coming to their senses," said master butcher Neil Watt of Watt the Butcher in Montrose, on the east coast of Scotland. "The haggis you get in the States does not taste like proper haggis."

Of course, the lifting of the ban is far from certain. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Lindsay Cole said reports that any decision had been made are incorrect. The latest science is being reviewed, but no timetable was set for a decision, she said in a statement.

Haggis got back on the table -- at least politically speaking -- after Scottish Rural Affairs minister Richard Lochhead wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking for clarification of the ban.

Lochhead also asked that Vilsack extend the review to include some of Scotland's other products, including beef, lamb and venison.

"We want to allow American consumers to sample our world renowned national dish," he said. "They should be assured Scotland has an excellent reputation in animal disease surveillance and prevention."

Haggis is the traditional centerpiece of Burns' Suppers held by Scottish societies across the globe every January, when it is served with tatties (potatoes), bashed neeps (turnip, swede or rutabaga) and washed down with copious amounts of Scotch whisky.

Long the food of the poor, haggis in recent years has enjoyed a resurgence in Scotland, where it is reworked into numerous modern interpretations, such as haggis samosas. At Angelus Restaurant near Buckingham Palace in London, head chef Martin Nisbet puts an Italian spin on it to create haggis tortellini.

"We believe there is a big market to be tapped as the government estimates there are 9 million Scottish Americans," said Jo Macsween, director of Macsween's Haggis in Edinburgh, who already exports to South Africa and across Europe.

"But who knows how long it will be before the ban is lifted. It could take years," he said. "Americans are inquisitive and eager to try our product when they visit. Once they've tasted it they generally love it and become enthusiasts."

Well, not every American falls in love with it. During the G8 summit of 2005 at Gleneagles, President George W. Bush said he was not keen to try the dish. "I was briefed on haggis," he said.

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