On Burns Night, Scottish Americans wait for haggis dividend from Brexit
The traditional Scots dish is not welcome on the other side of the Atlantic.
Tonight some of the millions of Americans with Scottish ancestry will sit down and tuck into a plate of the country’s renowned national dish — haggis. None of them, however, will be eating the genuine article exported from Scotland.
With all the talk of the U.K. banning American exports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-raised beef that don’t meet British standards, less attention is paid to British food exports that don’t meet the bar in the U.S.
Haggis is one of them.
The Burns Night tradition of eating haggis on January 25 is celebrated throughout the U.S. and Canada in regions pocketed with people with Scots ancestry. It marks the birthday in 1759 of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns who wrote “Auld Lang Syne,” the New Year’s Eve anthem sung traditionally in many English-speaking countries.
Yet Scottish-made haggis has been banned in the United States since 1971. “It’s an old story,” said James Macsween, the managing director and a third-generation haggis maker at Macsween of Edinburgh. Haggis is traditionally made with lung meat, heart, liver, barley and spices, boiled in a sheep’s stomach.
“There’s nothing wrong with lung meat,” Macsween insists. But the U.S. doesn’t consider it suitable for consumption, so it’s banned from import.
“There seems to be little scientific evidence for the US ban,” wrote David Henig, director of the UK Trade Policy Project at the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) think tank, in an article last year.
The next time the U.S. complains about the science behind the U.K. and EU’s current ban on chlorine-washed chicken, Henig wrote, “they could be asked about the science behind their ban on haggis.”
In 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated that a U.K.-U.S. trade deal could open up opportunities for haggis. “I’m not aware of much progress,” Macsween said.
If the ban on lung meat was dropped tomorrow, however, there’s still a question about whether haggis would get into the U.S. anytime soon. There’s also a ban on sheep meat due to concerns over a neurodegenerative disease that affects a small number of sheep called scrapie that isn’t transmissible to humans. “It’s a complicated situation,” said Macsween.
Earlier this month, then U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Woody Johnson caused a stir when he tweeted out a picture of sheep saying that he was “working hard to get British lamb to America and it’s looking very promising!”
But Johnson has now left London with the transition to the Biden administration. “With no disrespect to the ambassador, I don’t believe that we’ve made much progress,” said Peter Hardwick, a trade policy adviser at the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA). “There needs to be a fundamental change in the U.S.’s import rules in relation to those countries that have scrapie — and the U.K. is one of those.”