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APIA, Samoa (May 3, 1998 - PACNEWS)---Samoans are being encouraged to eat giant African snails to help rid the country of an infestation of the agricultural pests.

Since arriving five years ago from American Samoa, the snails have wreaked havoc on local crops despite numerous eradication attempts by the Department of Agriculture.

The pests, which grow to eight centimeters (3.2 inches) were first thought to be poisonous and inedible, but Dr. Walter Vermuelen, the President of the environmental watchdog organization, 'O le Siosiomaga Society, says the snails have a high protein-low fat content, making them "practically a health food."

A local recipe involves isolating the snails for four days and then boiling them several times before adding garlic and coconut cream.

There is also a potential export market. Top Australian restaurants are serving African snails for about $US 10 a dozen, while Tahiti has the French delicacy listed on some of its menus.

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