Really slow food: Malta farm plans to export 37 tons of snails annually

Malta Snails, a company owned by Patrick Caruana and Louie Camilleri, are seeking the green light for three large greenhouses in Iklin, on Triq Il-Ħwawar

In 2014, it was estimated that the total consumption of snails reached an annual 450,000 tons, for a value of $12 billion dollars
In 2014, it was estimated that the total consumption of snails reached an annual 450,000 tons, for a value of $12 billion dollars

A proposed snail farm in Iklin is aiming to produce up to 37 tons of snails annually, to be exported to Europe and beyond for food.

Malta Snails, a company owned by Patrick Caruana and Louie Camilleri, are seeking the green light for three large greenhouses in Iklin, on Triq Il-Ħwawar.

The technology for the new farm is being provided by Touchstone Snails, which is based in Larnaka in Cyprus and operates through an international franchise, represented in Malta through Malta Snails. The company has 15 years’ experience in the breeding of the snail species Helix aspersa, which is also very common in Malta and is known as the edible snail (għakrux raġel).

This species, which forms part of Maltese cuisine, can be found in rocks and in rubble walls and is considered a pest by local farmers. “There is a high demand for this type of snail since it has a high nutritional value and is of good quality,” the proponents say in a project statement presented to the Planning Authority.

Snail farming, also known as heliciculture, is the production of snails for human consumption, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and animal feeds.

Snail farming, also known as heliciculture, is the production of snails for human consumption, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and animal feeds
Snail farming, also known as heliciculture, is the production of snails for human consumption, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and animal feeds

According to Malta Snails, there is an increasing demand for snail meat worldwide. Moreover, in countries like France, Italy, and Spain, the supply of snails does not meet the demand at present.

In 2014, it was estimated that the total consumption of snails reached an annual 450,000 tons, for a value of $12 billion dollars. Only 15% consumed presently originate from breeding farms. China accounts for 42% of snail imports followed by France (23%), Italy (10%), Belgium (6%) and Greece (4%).

The edible snail accounts for 80 per cent of snails being bred in European snail farms. The first stock of snails will be imported from Cyprus since one of the franchise requirements entails that the provenance and quality of the snails must be certified. The mother stock for the subsequent cycles will be selected from local production to ensure the best quality.

The greenhouses are to be set over a 10,000sq.m plot of agricultural land, covering an area of 1,440sq.m. The farm will be operated as a closed system to ensure that the snails are contained within the greenhouses, not to disrupt agricultural activities in the surrounding area.

Breeding snails are contained in pans of soil and low-growing grass to support humid conditions. To ensure a closed system, the pans’ edges will be equipped with a low voltage electric fence to ensure the snails remain within the pan area. An outer structure will provide an additional layer of protection to stop snails from escaping the greenhouses. No pesticides and fertilisers will be used in any part of the breeding process.

The breeding pans’ grass has to be trimmed regularly, and since snails are nocturnal creatures, they will be allowed to move to the top surface of the pan on a wooden plank to eat at night. The snails will be fed in the evening with a method that minimises food wastage: a grass-based pelleted feed.

During the day, the snail will move to the underside of the planks or on curtains to sleep. This behaviour facilitates the efficient feeding of the snails and cleaning of the breeding units.

The snail cycle is directly linked to temperature and humidity. The snails generally mate and lay eggs in the late summer.

The eggs hatch around September and the snails are harvested in May, when they reach a weight of approximately 10 grams each.

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