Snails are subject to Regulation (EC) 853/2004 which concerns food of animal origin. In this context, ‘snails’ are the terrestrial gastropods of the species Helix pomatiaLinné, Helix aspersaMuller, Helix lucorum and species of the family Achatinidae.1 The species Helix pomatia was first described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 and is more commonly known as the Roman snail, Burgundy snail, edible snail or escargot.
2 Food Hygiene and the Preparation of Snails for Human Consumption
Regulation (EC) 853/2004 lays down specific rules on the hygiene of food of animal origin which supplement those laid down by Regulation (EC) No 852/2004. Food business operators are required to follow the rules which, in the case of food of animal origin, apply to unprocessed and processed products of animal origin.
The specific requirements which apply to food business operators preparing snails for human consumption are ensuring compliance with the following:2
Snails must be killed in an establishment constructed, laid out and equipped for that purpose.
Snails which die otherwise than by being killed in the establishment must not be prepared for human consumption.
Snails must be subjected to an organoleptic examination carried out by sampling. If that examination indicates that they might present a hazard, they must not be used for human consumption.
After killing, the hepato-pancreas3 of the snails must, if it might present a hazard, be removed and must not be used for human consumption.
3 The Prohibition on Taking Snails from the Wild
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 gives protection to certain wild animals. A ‘wild animal’ means any animal which is, or, before it was killed or taken, was living wild.4 Helix pomatia or the Roman snail in the wild is afforded protection under the 1981 Act.5 Since captive bred snails have at no stage been living wild they are not within the scope of the 1981 Act.
In the case of Roman snails living wild, any person who intentionally or recklessly kills, injures or takes a wild Roman snail or, subject to certain exceptions,6 has in their possession or control any live or dead wild Roman snail or any part of, or anything derived from, such a snail is guilty of an offence.7
It is also an offence to sell, offer or expose for sale, or possess or transport for the purpose of sale, any live or dead Roman snail or any part of, or anything derived from, such a snail.8 Furthermore, publishing or causing to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying the person who did so buys or sells, or intends to buy or sell, any of those things is also an offence.9
In any proceedings for an offence, except that concerning the publication of an advertisement, the animal in question, in this instance a Roman snail, shall be presumed to have been a wild animal unless the contrary is shown. It would, therefore, be prudent to retain some evidence of the fact that snails from domestic or commercial sources were captive bred.
A person found guilty of any of the above offences is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.10
Natural England have published a helpful guide to the Roman snail.11
2 Ibid., Annex III, Section XI
3 The main digestive gland is the largest gland in the Roman snail.
11 Natural England, Roman Snails and Development, Technical Information Note, TIN103, 2011