These 7 foods are illegal in the United States

Jelisa Castrodale

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At this point, it’s statistically impossible not to know someone who hasn’t been to Iceland, who isn’t planning a trip to Iceland or who isn’t currently on a plane that is scheduled to land in Iceland later today. Last year, more than 2.1 million tourists visited the tiny island, which is why your Instagram feed has been an endless parade of waterfalls, geysers and OMG SO MUCH BLUE LAGOON.


On my own trip to Iceland (because of course I’ve been there), I mostly just marveled at the food, which was across-the-board incredible. It didn’t matter whether I was standing in line for a hot dog at the world-famous Baejarins Beztu Pylsur or indulging in chef’s tasting menus, it was all fantastic – and one of the highlights was the tender, juicy horse tenderloin.

Horse is prevalent on Icelandic menus – although not the most popular meat among Icelanders – and if you didn’t grow up re-reading Black Beauty or brushing the pastel manes of your My Little Ponies, then it’s absolutely worth trying. Since that glorious night, I’ve sought it out at every opportunity in the parts of Europe and Quebec where it’s still available in butcher shops, in restaurants, on food trucks and even as baby food. The only downside (other than being quietly judged by your coworker with the ‘Got Spots: Appaloosa-A-Day’ calendar) is that you won’t be able to eat it here in the United States.

Although horse meat is not technically illegal, Congress has put up enough obstacles to run a steeplechase through. The last remaining horse slaughterhouses were closed a decade ago, shortly after Congress ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture couldn’t spend any money to inspect facilities that processed horse meat. According to PolitiFact, the ban on funding inspections expired in 2011 and, a year later, one meat processing facility in New Mexico was given the OK to export horse meat to Europe for human consumption – but there’s no evidence that any of it was ever sold or distributed in the U.S.

A renewed ban on slaughtering horses for meat passed earlier this year, and will remain in effect at least until October. (All that said, there’s nothing stopping you from raising and eating your own horses – but it’s probably easier to book a flight to Reykjavik).

If you thought all of that was complicated, here are six other foods that are either banned in the United States, or are tangled in so many regulations and restrictions that they might as well be.  

Beluga caviar

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, travelers do not need a permit to “import, export, or re-export” up to 125 grams (4.4 ounces) of sturgeon or paddlefish caviar, provided that they’re carrying it with them in their luggage or personal effects. But – and this is a beluga-sized but – that does not include any caviar from that particular fish. “Travelers should also remember that the United States does not allow the import of any beluga caviar since the beluga sturgeon is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” Christina Meister, a USFWS spokesperson, told EAT SIP TRIP.


So you went on a big game hunt in Africa, huh? Regardless of what kind of animal you bagged and posed for pictures with, it has to stay on that side of the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the USDA and a handful of other agencies collectively prohibit the import of bushmeat from African wildlife, as well as “almost anything containing meat products, such as bouillon [and] soup mixes.”

Casu Marzu

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We’re honestly not sure why someone would want to bring a wheel of maggot-infested cheese into the United States, but we don’t understand Blake Shelton’s popularity either – so who are we to judge?  If, for some reason, you do develop a taste for this terrifying sheep’s milk cheese during your stay in Sardinia, you’d better inhale as much of it as you can before you leave the Italy. The maggot-filled cheese (its name translates to ‘rotten cheese’) is illegal under the European Union’s own food hygiene and health regulations, and those little nasties are exactly why you can’t bring it back into the States.


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#fugu #pescepalla bonazzo! #traaac

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 In a Season 2 episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer eats some improperly prepared fugu – that super-poisonous pufferfish – and spends the next 20 minutes convinced that he’s going to die. (“If there’s any consolation, it’s that you’ll feel no pain at all until sometime tomorrow evening, when your heart explodes,” Dr. Hibbert tells him). Although parts of the fish do contain an often-lethal neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, its availability in the United States is highly regulated in an attempt to prevent any fugu-induced deaths.

Peter Cassell, an FDA spokesperson, told EAT SIP TRIP that the Japanese government licences “specially trained fish cutters to process and prepare puffer fish,” and the fish can only be brought into the United States by one approved importer “for special occasions” two or three times each year. Because American chefs do not undergo any kind of certification process, the agency warns that restaurants and fish markets should not sell pufferfish unless they’ve purchased it from that one very specific importer – and any adventurous eater should take that same precaution.


 You probably read that word with a terrible Scottish accent, because it’s as closely associated with Scotland as bagpipes, kilts and impossibly windy golf courses. Authentic haggis is made from a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs that are boiled inside the animal’s stomach and, because of one of those ingredients, it’s banned in the United States. Under the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service’s current regulations, all sheep meat and meat by-products are currently banned – although a rule proposed in 2016 might allow those items to get past borders. (Amanda Heitkamp, a USDA spokesperson, told EAT SIP TRIP that there “currently is not a date when that rule might be finalized).

That said, the Food Safety and Inspection Service a completely different agency within the USDA, does not allow sheep lungs to enter the United States for human consumption. Why? Mostly because it doesn’t deem American sheep lungs to be edible (nor will it allow them to be inspected) so there’s no way it’s giving the OK to those that have been inspected by foreign agencies.


These 7 foods are illegal in the United StatesPhoto courtesy of Photo via Getty Images/Volodymyr Kucherenko

This 1-ounce, thumb-sized songbird was once a highly coveted delicacy in some of France’s Michelin-starred restaurants – at least until it was banned in 1999 when the country finally decided that it should stop eating a protected species. For every world class chef that protested the government’s decision, a dozen animal rights activists probably celebrated it. Before they were placed on the finest of fine china, the birds spent 21 days in total darkness, which caused them to binge-eat whatever food they were given. Once they were deemed fat enough, each bird was drowned in a glass of brandy before being plucked, roasted, and served whole. (“It’s sort of a hot rush of fat, guts, bones, blood and meat, and it’s really delicious,” Anthony Bourdain said).

The tiny birds are still occasionally sold on the black market and are so rare and expensive that only the most connected people on the planet will experience EATING AN ENTIRE BIRD. (Yes, this was a plot point in a recent episode of “Billions”). But regardless of what kind of weird bird smugglers you’re friends with, you’re both doing something illegal – on both sides of the ocean. “The European Union, including France prohibit the export of the ortolan bunting,” Meister said. “Import of specimens in violation of a foreign country's conservation laws would not be allowed under the U.S. Lacey Act.”


Jelisa Castrodale

About Jelisa Castrodale

Read more about Jelisa Castrodale here.


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