Fried Frog Legs - © allrecipes.com

French ‘Leg Fetish’ Endangers Foreign Frog Populations

Frog’s Legs are back in the news, again. This time, it’s a dire warning that many frog varieties may go extinct if export harvesting – to feed the French frog leg habit – continues. Quite the opposite of the situation in North America…

American Bullfrog - © via PintrestThe American Bullfrog: An invasive species…

Massive exports

Environmentalists warn that several frog varieties may face extinction if their mass harvesting for export to Europe continues at its current pace.

In an open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, signed by more than 500 members of non-profit biodiversity advocate groups Robin des Bois, Vétérinaires pour la Biodiversité, and the German charity Pro Wildlife, warned that multiple Asian and Near Eastern frog populations may be on their last legs.

A recent Food & Wine story reports, “According to the letter, 4,070 tons of frozen frogs’ legs are imported into the European Union every year, equivalent to 80 million to 200 million frogs.”

France – the traditional home of frog leg culinary culture – is the single largest importer, consuming more than 3,000 tons annually.

The vast majority of those frogs are wild-caught, in Indonesia, Turkey, and Albania. Vietnam, a former French colony, also exports frog legs. But those are farmed. Nevertheless, the letter observes, frog farming has, “a negative impact on the wild frog population.”

Not just a ‘frog’ issue

“Frogs play a crucial role in ecosystem function and continuous off-takes disrupt their functions, e.g., control pests including those that can affect humans,” The letter says. “Equally, frogs may serve as bio-indicators, their occurrence can provide information about the health status of an ecosystem.”

At least one species that formerly made up a large proportion of the Asian export-frog harvest has already disappeared. Two others have declined dramatically.

A lesson from the Subcontinent

Scientists call it a ‘domino effect’.

India and Bangladesh have banned frog leg exports, after wild populations of several species declined sharply due to export harvesting in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, insects that the frogs once kept in line multiplied dramatically, and pesticide use exploded. The ballooning insect populations included both agricultural pests, and types that carry diseases to both animals and humans.

On top of that, the pesticides further hammered the dwindling frog populations.

The ‘kicker’

The letter points a collective finger at an ironic anomaly concerning EU policies on frogs: “Frog populations native to France and the EU are protected against commercial exploitation; the EU
should no longer permit the over-exploitation of frog species and populations in the major supplying countries to not only threaten the targeted species and populations but also the respective
ecosystems and their services for humans.”

The flip side

While wild frog species are in dire peril Across Asia and the Near East, they’re a serious problem in parts of North America. Populations are exploding in some areas, to the point where they’ve been declared ‘invasive species’.

Michael Indge regularly fishes for trout in Chemainus Lake, on Vancouver Island about 60 kilometres north of Victoria. Now, he’s going out for another delicacy: frog legs.

Specifically, Indge has received permission from North Cowichan District Council to harvest invasive American Bullfrogs.

My take

Aside from the obvious observation that Indge should hasten to export his harvest to France, thus alleviating the threatened shortage of legs for continental diners, I have little to say on this issue. I was the girl who screamed and ran away if a boy pushed a frog at me. I don’t care what you say – they’re slimy. If only in my horrified imagination.

I also dispute the contention of frog leg enthusiasts who claim, variously, that they taste ‘just like chicken’, or Filet of Sole. I tried frog’s legs once, at the urging of a foodie friend, and they tasted mildly, though distinctly fish to me.

But I am solidly on the side of the frogs who are being hunted to extinction to satisfy the palates of rich European food snobs. And I can’t get out of my mind the image of Kermit in a wheelchair…

~ Maggie J.

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