In the United States and Canada, the main species of snails used as “escargot” (namely C. aspersum and H. pomatia) are classified as invasive and non-indigenous. Because of this, they are considered plant pests by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the various agencies in each state tasked with controlling or regulating invasive species.
What does this mean for those hoping to farm snails? Quite a bit in terms of both acquiring stock, propagation, and sales. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Section 330 states:
“No person shall knowingly move any plant pest into or through the United States from any place outside thereof, or interstate, or knowingly accept delivery of any plant pest so moving unless such movement is authorized under permit under this part and is made in accordance with the conditions therein and the provisions in this part. “
As this states, any movement of plant pests, in this case the federally designated snail species outlined, cannot be moved live from state-to-state. This also includes the eggs of those species. In addition, individual states have rules that pertain to receiving and containing snails from out of state. Some even require permits–or ban altogether–the live collection of snails within state boundaries. Check with your state’s Department of Agriculture or whichever entity is charged with regulating plant health and safety to learn of your particular state’s rules. Here is a link to each state’s plant health division.
It is highly advised that you read the CFR Section 330 prior to beginning. It will save you time, money, and a lot of potential legal trouble. It will also help you decide if you want to further enter this line of business.
USDA will allow U.S. citizens to apply for permits to transport live snails or eggs across state lines (it will NOT allow AT ALL live importation of snails/eggs from overseas). They is no such thing as a USDA-approved snail farm; it is simply a permit to transport and contain snails.
To obtain a permit for interstate transport, you must apply through USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services. The so-called PPQ 526 permit allows individuals to transport live non-native snails, but with certain conditions. This rests on the proper containment and quarantine of all specimens transported (see the Containment Guidelines). Herein lies the difficulty with the regulations. Quarantine essentially means that all snails transported must, for the entirety of their lives and any offsprings’ lives, be quarantined inside a USDA-inspected and approved facility. So if you bring in snails, they must never leave the receiving facility alive. Their entire life cycle must be within this facility. So snails/eggs cannot be sold live for use by restaurants, at food stores, etc. If you intend to process the snails (according to all existing food processing rules), these may then be sold. DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Talk with the state entities that control plant/pest regulations and get EVERYTHING IN WRITING. We can’t stress this enough! Rules are up to some interpretation and one official may interpret them differently than another, potentially sabotaging your efforts.
A matrix has been produced to outline the snail species regulated by the USDA. Although this is aimed primarily for educational use of snails (in classrooms, labs, etc.) it still illustrates pretty well which states are amenable to allowing snails and which are not*. Even if your state is on the long list of deniers, it never hurts to contact your state officials as regulations may change at any time. Repeated requests may also help drive toward progress on rule changes.
*Be aware this can change at any time.