LONDON // The Scottish government is appealing to the United States to overturn its 40-year ban on the haggis, the "great chieftan [sic] o' the puddin' race", as the national poet Robert Burns called it.
With millions around the world preparing to celebrate Burns Night tomorrow with a traditional supper of haggis, neeps (mashed swedes or turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), the Scottish rural affairs secretary, Richard Lochhead, has invited officials from the US department of agriculture to visit Scotland to see for themselves what a wholesome, healthy dish haggis really is.
The six million Americans of Scottish descent have been denied the chance to buy any proper haggis since 1971, when the US banned the sale of products containing sheep's lungs, a crucial ingredient of the delicacy.
In the intervening four decades, US-based Scots have grumbled that they have had to put up with a quasi-haggis made of minced beef, instead of the real thing comprising chopped up sheep's hearts, livers and lungs, pinhead oats, onions, suet, spices and seasoning.
The concoction, mouth-watering to some, horrifying to vegetarians, is stuffed into the lining of a sheep's stomach and boiled.
Buoyed by reports this month that the US animal and plant health inspection service is to put out for public consultation the issue of resuming the import of UK "ruminant products" this year, Mr Lochhead has invited a US delegation to visit Scotland.
"We want to capitalise on the diaspora of Scots in the US and many of them would enjoy the opportunity to indulge in authentic Scottish haggis to accompany their neeps and tatties on Burns Night," he told the BBC yesterday.
"Scotland's produce is among the best in the world and I've asked US 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 to realise that our haggis is produced to the highest standards and that it's time to allow imports to resume."
A re-opening of the US haggis market could be worth millions of dollars to Scottish producers.
Jo Macsween, a director of the Edinburgh haggis producer Macsween, said the impact of a lifting the US ban would be "enormous".
"In our experience, American visitors love our haggis when they taste it while in Scotland and it would be lovely if they could not only be permitted to take some home with them at the end of their stay here, but purchase it in America too," he said.
Not that every American (nor every Scot) finds haggis absolutely irresistible. The New York Times once observed that the dish had "an august reputation for repulsiveness".