SCOTLAND’S national dish has been branded “inedible” by the US government.
An email from food safety officials states that the key haggis ingredient of sheep lung is unfit for human consumption.
The damning verdict on Scotland’s national dish, revealed on the eve of Burns Night, means potentially lucrative haggis exports to America are likely to be off the menu for ever.
And expat Scots in the States will have to choose between eating inferior homemade haggis, going without, and risking arrest by smuggling the genuine article.
In Scotland, the claim that haggis is “inedible” has caused consternation among politicians, food safety experts and butchers.
Scottish haggis makers are refusing to remove sheep lung, saying it makes up around 10% of the dish and is essential for the flavour.
Haggis imports to the US were banned more than two decades ago amid the scare over BSE-infected meat from Europe.
Last year, the US said it was reviewing the ban, leading to widespread hope that haggis exports to the States could resume.
But this newspaper has now established that the haggis ban is likely to be permanent.
Joelle Hayden, of the US Department of Agriculture, said in an email on January 12 that separate regulations from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) “determine sheep lungs to be inedible and, therefore, cannot be utilized for human consumption”.
She added that even if the BSE ban is lifted, “the FSIS rule would prohibit the U.S. production and imports of Haggis containing sheep lungs”.
Professor Hugh Pennington, one of the UK’s most eminent food safety experts, said last night he was baffled by the claim sheep lung makes haggis inedible.
He said: “It is hard to see what their arguments are. They are quite keen on offal foods and down south they eat the most bizarre things. There is nothing on a pig that isn’t eaten except the squeal.”
He added: “Haggis is cooked extensively so any bacteria should be killed off, and there should not be any parasites or toxins. If you rule those things out you are left with a cultural thing.
“Lamb and mutton have never been eaten on any scale in the US. But that’s not a good argument for promoting public health.”
Catherine Stihler, a Member of the European Parliament for Scotland, campaigned last year to have the haggis ban lifted.
She has written to traditional haggis makers asking if it is possible to remove sheep lung from haggis. “They said it is part of our recipe,” she said.
Ms Stihler claimed the ban could be a protection issue to do with scraffle, a US dish made of “pig parts” and cornmeal which is poured into brick-sized molds to solidify.
She said: “Apparently, it is pretty like haggis. This may be a competition issue. I will be writing to the US Ambassador in London, asking him to look at the issue.”
Alan Pirie, of award-winning haggis makers, James Pirie & Son, from Newtyle, Angus, said removing sheep lung was unthinkable.
“It is essential for that lamby flavour,” he said. “It is absolutely offensive for the Americans to say haggis is inedible. That’s absolute nonsense. Haggis is very nourishing, especially at this time of the year.”
The butcher said his firm was losing out financially because of the export ban. “Americans love haggis when they try it,” he said. “I just had a customer in for haggis. She had Americans staying with her and they wanted haggis for dinner.”
The Scottish government insisted it was still fighting to have the ban overturned. Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said US officials had been invited to Scotland “to see the high standards we have in our food industry”.
He said: “Scotland’s produce is amongst the best in the world and I’ve asked U.S. Department of Agriculture officials to come here to see for themselves the high standards we have in animal health and processing. This will help them realise that our haggis is produced to the highest standards and that it’s time to allow imports to resume.”