I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and her office for kindly picking me and allowing me the opportunity to raise this matter. I thank the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, for being present to deal with this important issue.
I am glad to say that I speak on behalf of snail farmers throughout the country and I wish 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, County 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?
The Minister of State is well aware of the current scenario concerning peat. I am sure she is ashamed that this Government has shut down Bord na Móna and our own peat processing, meaning that we are now importing peat from Latvia and briquettes from Germany. Similarly, in snail farming, there is a requirement that all live, 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, 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.
I congratulate Escargot, which is an umbrella group that flies the flag for the snail farmers of Ireland. We are talking about diversifying farming, and I am pushing all the time for the generation of off-farm income. I refer to people who can diversify into other methods of farming and make an income in that way, such as those who go into producing cheese or sowing a little bit of forestry. It is so important now, when families are struggling, trying to live on their land and to make what they can from their farms. I congratulate the snail farmers of Ireland for being imaginative and for thinking outside the box, but I ask the Minister of State and the Government to please support Escargot. What does the group need? It and its members need assistance from the Government. Snail farming must be recognised as a viable farming enterprise and 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.