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Andalucía imports 5,000 tonnes of snails from Morocco to help meet increasing demand
Gastronomy

Andalucía imports 5,000 tonnes of snails from Morocco to help meet increasing demand

  The region currently has 211 registered snail-producing farms, although the locally produced variety is not the preferred one with local consumers in the south of Spain

Europa Press

Seville

Sunday, 26 May 2024, 12:56

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Andalucía imported 5,000 tonnes of snails from Morocco in 2023 with a total value of 3.8 million euros, the Junta's regional Ministry of Agriculture has reported. Furthermore, in the first two months of 2024 Andalucía bought even more of this product from the North African country for 248,000 euros, which represents a growth of 88% compared to the same two-month period in 2023.

This places Morocco as a market leader in Andalucía for snails, and contrasts with the production figures of the snail farms in Spain, which achieved 605,500 kilograms last year, according to the National Association of Snail Breeding and Fattening (Ancec). Moroccan imports also stand out when considering that Spain's estimated consumption figures for 2020 amounted to only 18,800 tonnes, although it should be noted that an increase in consumption of snails was already noticeable last year.

Turning to domestic production within the region, the Junta has given the following details: as of April this year there are 211 registered farms dedicated to the production of snails. Seville is the provincial leader with 54, followed by Cordoba (42), Malaga (28), Granada (27), Huelva and Almeria (19), Cadiz (17) and Jaen (5). However, the regional ministry does not rule out the possibility that some of these farms might have closed during this period.

It should also be borne in mind, in the light of a study published by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2020, that it is difficult for the government to count which heliculture farms (the term for snail-farming) are actually active. For instance, only a third of the farms registered in Andalucía were in operation at the end of the 2020 study. The same goes for the other 100 farms at a national level whose activity or inactivity could not be determined. For this reason, the Ministry turned to Ancec to improve the accuracy of these data.

According to the executive secretary of the Organización Interprofesional del Caracol de Crianza (the professional body for snail breeders), José Antonio Marcelo, it is complicated for the ruling authorities to know the number of active farms for various reasons.

On the one hand, he points out that those responsible for the farms can apply for certain subsidies (youth employment, farm improvements) by committing to keep their farm in production for a minimum of five years after applying for the subsidies. If these managers report that their farms are not in operation, they are obliged to lose the subsidy.

On the other hand, Marcelo reveals that, although the owners of these farms have to de-register their farms from the register of livestock farms (REGA) if they are no longer active, not all owners who fail to comply with the regulations for various reasons are actually checked. Those in charge of such farms also argue that there is excessive bureaucracy in the registration process, be it to sign on or off. Marcelo also refers to the lack of farm management in the area of heliculture.

Sources consulted by Europa Press mentioned another factor that adds uncertainty to this farm count, although it is less important than the previous ones, namely that some farms might be operating without being officially registered.

Better quality

In any case, it should be noted that the farmed snail (Helix aspersa) produced in Andalucía is a product with poor traction among consumers in the region, with just 30% max of snails produced being distributed in Andalucía, according to Ancec's estimates for 2020. Most of the region's snail production ends up in other destinations where this snail is more widely accepted, such as in the northern regions of Spain.

Manuel Felipe López, one of the entrepreneurs involved in the snail trade via his company Caracoles Sevilla, explains that the variety that is imported from Morocco, known as the blanquillo, has strong support in several areas of Andalucía, as well as being, in his opinion, of better quality than traditional farm-raised snails.

López points out that the population of snails and the blanquillo in particular has declined in Spain over the last 60 years that, together with the "sanitary restrictions that limit the trade in snails", has led to production being sought from overseas. He acknowledges that the Moroccan variety is of "quite good" quality, as well as being "equal" to its counterpart in Spain, among other reasons.

As far as farm production is concerned, López also argues that the type of snail grown on farms, the helix aspersa, does not compete, at least in Seville province, with the blanquillo variety. On this point, he recalled that he had a farm dedicated to snail cultivation and was forced to close it when he was unable to sell them. He believes that the main issue is the price difference between farmed snails and blanquillos, the latter being cheaper. Coupled with that, the high temperatures in certain areas at this time of year make it difficult to raise snails on these farms.

While consumer and breeder preferences as to the breed of snail may vary, Marcelo does insist that the blanquillo has no "commercial value", while the farmed snail has greater "traceability and quality".

Marcelo detailed some advantages of the farmed snail over the Moroccan snail, which comes from the wild. Firstly, that the farmed snail has greater muscle mass (30% more). Secondly, that more details are known about the farmed snail, such as its age, which helps eliminate older snails from the production line, therefore leaving only the younger ones that are much tastier.

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