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Snail meat could be a cheap, tasty and nutritious food, and help reduce anaemia caused by a lack of iron in the diet, according to a Nigerian researcher.

Ukpong Udofia, a nutritionist at the University of Uyo, analysed the nutritional value of the meat of the giant West African land snail (Archachatina marginata).

She found it to have a higher protein and iron content, and lower fat content, than beef, as well as containing many essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin A.

The snail is native to forests and areas of moist vegetation inWest African countries such as Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.

Udofia tested the tastiness and acceptability of the meat by asking a group of mothers and their school-age children whether they preferred a pie made from snail or beef. Most preferred the appearance, texture, and flavour of the snail pie.

Iron-deficiency anaemia is common in children and women across Africa and the developing world. Caused by a lack of iron it is exacerbated by diseases such as malaria and contributes to a fifth of maternal deaths, according to the WHO.

Snail meat has figured in the diet of Asian countries, and of African people living in forested areas, for thousands of years, Pa Tamba Ngom, a researcher in the nutrition programme at Gambia's Medical Research Council, told SciDev.Net

"Here in the West African sub-region, especially Senegal and The Gambia, it is very famous and included in one of our main rice dishes, known as 'Benachin'."

Ngom said that small-scale snail farming systems should be expanded to protect wild snail stocks from becoming further endangered by over-gathering.

Sonya Begg, an Australian snail farming expert, said the snail could pose a public health threat if eaten raw and infected with the rat lungworm parasite (Angiostrongylus cantonensis), which can cause a rare form of meningitis in humans. She added that people should eat only farmed snails to ensure the snails had eaten only non-poisonous foods.

Udofia's study was published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health.

Link to abstract of paper in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health