Los Angeles International Airport staff were left ‘shell-shocked’ when two picnic baskets containing nearly 70 live giant African land snails were discovered during luggage checks earlier this month.
On Monday, US Customs and Border Protection officials confirmed that they had made their biggest seizure of African land snails, when they found 67 of the giant creatures on 1 July.
It is believed that the snails, which can weigh over 35 pounds and grow to 8 inches long, were sent to America to be sold as food – a lunch that would set buyers back over $50 dollars per snail.
The snails arrived from the West African state of Nigeria, where snails are a popular delicacy and are regularly used in a stew or eaten as a fried snack in many Nigerian bars.
Nevertheless, they are outlawed in the US and regarded as a damaging species that threatens more than 500 types of plants and can carry parasites harmful to humans – including one that can bring on meningitis in those that come in contact.
It has also been reported in the past that when snails of this size cannot find any plants to feed on they have been known to eat paint or attack walls in search of nutrition.
Giant African land snails have invaded certain areas of the US already, with south Florida being one area that has had a particular problem with the invading pest.
Todd C Owen, director of field operations for the customs agency, said that the recent seizure “was the first time this pest has been encountered in such a large quantity and as a consumption entry".
Despite not ending up on anyone’s dinner plate, the snails were still fried, with the US Department of Agriculture incinerating all of the snails after inspection.
Authorities are investigating the haul. "When someone doesn't know a commodity is prohibited under USDA regulations there is usually no punishment" a spokesperson from the governmental department said.
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