A snail, in the Irish Government’s eye, is the equivalent of a cow, Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae told the Dáil on Wednesday.
Healy-Rae raised the issue of snail farming in Ireland in the topical issues debate, where he said he was speaking on behalf of the snail farmers of Ireland and that he wanted to highlight their concerns.
“Not many people may realise that a snail is classified in Ireland as an individual animal. We can imagine the complications, the paperwork and the unnecessary bureaucracy that this creates, and I ask the Government to deal with this issue.
“Ireland has approximately 30 professional snail farmers. I am proud and glad that we have one such farm in Toormore, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry.
"The first problem Irish snail farmers have is that a snail is classified here as an animal, but, obviously, it does not qualify for any farm payments.
“In France snails are classified as shellfish, therefore allowing for an easy processing system, but because a snail is deemed an animal in Ireland, it is necessary to have the same documentation to process each snail as for a cow.
“We must bear in mind that a tonne of snails contains approximately 115,000 snails. This is an absolutely insane situation. How can two member countries of the EU have totally different rules for this agricultural sector?” Healy-Rae said.
He said that farmed Irish snails must be shipped to Greece to be processed and then be shipped back to the Irish snail farms, where they can be jarred and sold as a processed product.
“This is laughable. The Minister of State [Pippa Hackett], as a member of this Government, must surely be ashamed of this situation. The Government talks about going green, but it is also telling us to ship the snails out for processing and then to ship them back again.
“It is as bad as the situation with peat and the importation of bales of briquettes,” he said.
The Kerry TD called for snail farming to be recognised as a viable farming enterprise and said that “snail farmers need to be included in possible grants and funding for farm diversification aid”.
The classification of snails must also be brought on par with the rest of Europe and changed to consider snails as shellfish, he said.
In response, Minister of State Pippa Hackett said that snail farming was a niche market in Ireland, but one that had been growing in recent years.
She said while there are no CAP schemes to support snail farmers, they can apply to the Enterprise Ireland innovation scheme.
Minister Hackett said the classification of snails as either animals or fish is a matter for each member state and that maybe the Department can look into Ireland’s classification of snails.