Inside the World of Black-Market Haggis

Sometimes, only illegal sheep lungs will do

Scottish haggis pudding for sale
What happens when a key ingredient in haggis is banned in the U.S.? Some turn to crime to obtain it.
zoonabar/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / January 25, 2020 7:00 am

Black market sheep lungs. It’s not the name of New York’s hottest nightclub, nor is it some cult noise-rock band six months away from playing Coachella. No, black market sheep lungs are exactly what you think they are: a way for American haggis enthusiasts to get around a decades-old Department of Agriculture prohibition.

At The New York Times, David Yaffe-Bellany explores just how Americans who love haggis can actually get their hands on a crucial ingredient for the dish. This is especially important for late January; Burns Night, held on January 25, can involve the consumption of haggis — and for some, the vegan version just won’t do.

Why have sheep lungs prompted normally law-abiding citizens to engage in illicit activity? A BBC article from 2013 offers the perspective of Scottish journalist Alex Massie, who noted that the texture of haggis made without sheep lungs “tends to resemble that of pate more than the haggis he grew up with in Scotland.” 

Yaffe-Bellany’s article notes that many American haggis enthusiasts try their luck with bringing the object of their culinary affection over the Canadian border, while others opt to try their hand at butchering a lamb they’ve slaughtered themselves. The former option can be risky, however, as the statistics show:

Over the last four years, United States customs officials have seized around 17,300 “ruminant byproducts” at airports across the country and land crossings along the Canadian border — a total that includes haggis as well as other types of animal imports, including certain goat and elk products, according to agency records.

One of the haggis smugglers profiled related getting caught: they were fined and their haggis was destroyed, but they didn’t face a harsher penalty. Doing time for bearing haggis would make for a bizarre prison memoir, but it probably wouldn’t be the strangest thing to involve haggis.  

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