Europe’s insatiable appetite for frogs’ legs could drive them to extinction

A Eurasian marsh frog. This species is hunted extensively in Turkey and parts of Asia.
A Eurasian marsh frog. This species is hunted extensively in Turkey and parts of Asia. Copyright Canva
By Charlotte Elton
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Europe has consumed 2 billion frogs in a decade. What does that mean for the environment?

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European demand for frog legs could drive the amphibians to “irreversible extinction,” a new study has warned.

Between 2010 and 2019, European Union countries imported 40.7 million kilograms of the legs - equivalent to roughly two billion frogs.

Most of the frogs are bought from Indonesia, Albania, and Turkey

But Europe’s insatiable appetite for frogs is decimating local populations in these countries, warns a report published in the journal Nature Conservation.

“We call upon [exporting] countries and their representative governments to assume responsibility for the sustainability of the trade,” the authors wrote.

“The EU should take immediate action to channel all imports through a single centralised database and list sensitive species in the Annexes of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation.”

Which country consumes the most frog legs?

Frog legs are one of the most well-known dishes in French cuisine.

According to legend, 12th century monks started eating the amphibians - which the church classified as fish - to get around a strict no-meat diet.

They are also consumed in other parts of the world, including Vietnam and China.

In the EU, Belgium is by far the main importer of frog legs (importing 28,430 tonnes between 2010 and 2019), but it re-exports about three-quarters of this to France.

France imports 6,790 tonnes from outside the EU (16.6 per cent of EU imports), followed by the Netherlands (2620 tonnes; 6.4% per cent, Italy (1790 tonnes; 4.3 per cent) and Spain (923.4 tonnes; 2.2 per cent.)

Canva
Frogs' legs are a delicacy in many parts of the world.Canva

What impact is the frog trade having on the environment?

The cuisine comes at a cost.

French authorities banned local commercial frog hunting - with exceptions - in the 1980s, after species numbers dwindled dramatically. 

Now, 80 per cent of Europe’s frog demand is supplied by Indonesia - and the same pattern is being repeated.

The crab-eating grass frog (Fejervarya cancrivora), the giant Javan frog (Limnonectes macrodon), and the East Asian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus rugulosus) are all vulnerable to potential ‘overharvesting’, the report warns.

In Turkey, the Pelophylax caralitanus - commonly known as the Anatolian frog - is at “high extinction risk.”

“Commercial overexploitation [of this species] for the frogs’ legs trade in France, Italy and Switzerland has caused its rapid decline so that the species is now considered endangered,” the report warns.

The decline has a knock-on effect on local ecosystems. Frogs prey on insects. In areas where amphibians are hunted, the researchers said, the use of toxic pesticides tends to increase.

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How can we protect frogs from overexploitation?

In the 1970s and 80s India and Bangladesh were the EU’s main frog suppliers - but the governments of these countries stopped exporting after local populations declined.

To ensure the trade stays sustainable, the researchers call on frog-exporting countries to regulate the trade more tightly.

They also called on the EU to publish more information on the trade.

Some enterprising Francophile vegans have also invented plant-based frog-legs, made from wheat and soy.

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