A new study published in the journal Nature Conservation has found that, between 2010 and 2019, the total imports of frog legs in the European Union – with Belgium the main importer, and France the main consumer – amounted to 40.7 million kilograms, which equals to nearly two billion frogs. These findings highlight the “inexplicable volatility” in the trade of frog legs and the extreme dependency of the EU on other countries to meet its demands.
“The international trade in frogs’ legs is a black box, whether it is the lack of species-specific trade data, which would be needed to ensure sustainability, or the large-scale mislabeling in trade and the challenges to identify species when it comes to processed, skinned, and frozen frogs’ legs,” said study lead author Mark Auliya, an expert in Herpetology at the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change in Germany.
As insect predators, frogs have a critical role in many ecosystems, and, when they are driven to extinction, the use of toxic pesticides aiming to control insects increases substantially. Thus, the trade of frogs’ legs has major consequences not only for the frogs themselves, but also for ecosystem health and biodiversity in general.
While in the 1970s and 1980s India and Bangladesh were the main exporters of frogs’ legs to Europe, when their wild frog populations declined, they banned exports. Since then, Indonesia became the main supplier, and is currently facing – along with other countries such as Turkey or Albania – massive declines of large-legged frog species, causing a domino effect for biodiversity conservation.
“The EU is by far the world’s largest importer of frogs’ legs, and large-legged species such as the crab-eating grass frog (Fejervarya cancrivora), the giant Javan frog (Limnonectes macrodon), and the East Asian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus rugulosus) are in particular demand among supposed gourmets in Europe,” said study co-author Dr. Sandra Altherr, a biologist and wildlife trade expert at Pro Wildlife.
Although commercial frog farms, such as those recently operated in Vietnam, may seem a viable alternative that can relieve the pressure from wild frog populations, ongoing restocking of frog farms with species from the wild, along with the risk of escape of non-native species (which can lead to invasion and disease spread) remain serious environmental threats.
In addition, the scientists found no clear and reliable data on the amount of pesticide residues and other toxic substances in imported frogs’ legs. “This in itself is shocking and in view of the situation in exporting countries and the lack of transparency and management in the application of agrochemicals and veterinary medicinal substances within commercial farms, we strongly recommend that this monitoring become an urgent near-future task for importing countries,” the authors concluded.
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