With the permission of the barriers marked by the palate or custom, snail meat is appreciated by many diners. Calcium, phosphorus, iron, niacin (vitamin B3)... 'superfood' properties typical of new times for the snail thanks to the developments launched by the helicícolas farms (regulated as a livestock activity), to establish processes inspired by those of poultry farm operations.
In this context, innovation has made its way, step by step, through the work of associations such as Ancec (National Association of Snail Breeding and Fattening), the Interprofessional Organization of Breeding Snails (Interhelix) and the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, which has a "Guide to Good Hygiene Practices in the Heliciculture Sector" in which it is highlighted how "current heliciculture pursues the commercialization of a quality snail, subjected to rigorous sanitary and zootechnical controls that affect production as responsible for the production of food, guaranteeing, therefore, the food safety standards established by the EU".
José Antonio Marcelo, executive secretary of Ancec, legal representative of the sector before public administrations, describes some of the innovative processes that they apply daily in their activity: "In the case of food, we have a probiotic as a complement to its breeding and development, in addition to microbiological controls on water, soil and faeces to control and prevent any alteration that may imply a health problem.
Up to this point, one can speak of techniques and processes already implemented in one way or another in the sector, but innovation is advancing in the field of digitization, with the implementation of big data, as the specialist points out, "to take advantage of all the data from the farms to achieve productive improvements in the future”. Marcelo also works on the ground, from his position as manager of the Cal Jep company, with a farm in Castellfollit del Boix, Barcelona...
«For a sector like ours (Marcelo continues), innovation actions are essential. But previously there has to be a research work already carried out, to know what are the questions that can suppose an applicable innovation. One of the keys is the cooperation between different entities, especially from the sector, with technology centers. If we want to be competitive in a globalized world, we must provide added value to our products in order to differentiate them: innovation policies are not an option, but a necessity if we want the sector to be viable in the long term».
As Marcelo points out, the career (forgive the expression) of his activity presents good prospects: «Being a very small sector, in reference to other livestock sectors, both the present and the future are closely linked to the work and the visibility that we can give to the sector. We are small, but we are very relevant in rural areas, since our activity is very much aimed at family farming businesses as a way of diversifying their sources of income. This represents a great potential for growth when it comes to making existing farms viable and giving good prospects to those that can be created.”
In the case of Ancec, they have been working for years with different departments of the UAB which, as early as 1993, highlighted in one of their scientific communications as "along with frog legs, they are minority food products, but they appear contemplated in the legislation Veterinary Medicine of the European Union and that stand out for their fleshiness".
This innovation work has the support of the Ministry of Agriculture to promote actions to promote the sector and provide adequate information in this regard. In addition to reports such as the one mentioned, the document 'Characterization of the helicicle sector' is added, in which the road ahead is recognized: "The helicicle sector is a growing livestock sector, since, until not so long ago, the consumption of snails was It was based solely on its collection, and there were no facilities dedicated to breeding and fattening. However, the increase in consumption, and more recently the prohibition of collecting and harming wild animals, as well as their possession, transport and trade, introduced by Law 42/2007, on Natural Heritage and Biodiversity, has boosted this activity".
Ancec also presents innovation projects to the Departments of Agriculture of different autonomies, in the calls for Operational Groups for innovation (which have European funds). In the case of Europe, recent initiatives have stood out, such as the one promoted by the European Association for Innovation in agricultural productivity and sustainability (AEI-Agri) within the framework of the National Rural Development Program 2014-2020.
In the case of Caracoles de Aliste, Jorge Corral, manager of the company that has a snail farm in Fonfría, Zamora (and which has contributed to developing this activity in other parts of the area) provides his opinion based on work experience in a 9,000 m2 open-air fattening farm and in a 200 m2 warehouse, 100 for the reproduction room and 100 for storage, snail drying and a cold room to keep the product in perfect condition. «To be competitive in the heliciculture sector (he comments), we have innovated in our own maternity room, where fry snails are born for later fattening in our external farms. In the interior warehouse, we replicate the optimum temperature and humidity, so that the adult snails mate and reproduce.
Caracoles de Aliste has also strengthened its relationship with the official laboratories, which undertake exhaustive periodic controls of the snails: «We analyze the water to ensure that it is at its optimum PH level, we also analyze the snails and their faeces to avoid possible diseases or problematic. In this way, we can correct and anticipate possible health problems that may arise. And it also highlights how digitization, the help of data, contributes more and more to improving the final result: «It is important to digitize all production processes, such as feeding or the density of snails, which helps us to have the data enough to be more competitive.