The European Union’s hunger for frogs’ legs is causing an “extinction domino effect” among the amphibians, a study has warned. According to the researchers, the EU has an “extreme dependency” on other countries to meet its demand for the delicacy, with the trade in frogs’ legs having “inexplicable volatility”. Furthermore, the trade appears to be having a negative impact on the wild frog populations in the main countries of supply, which include Indonesia, Albania and Turkey.
Paper author and biologist Dr Sandra Altherr of the German-based charity Pro Wildlife said: “The EU is bar far the world’s largest importer of frogs’ legs.
“Large-legged species such as the crab-eating grass frog, the giant Javan frog and the East Asian bullfrog are in particular demand among supposed gourmets in Europe.”
Frogs play an important role in their ecosystems because they prey on insects. In areas where frogs disappear, the researchers said, the use of toxic pesticides tends to increase.
Because of this, the impact of the frogs’ legs trade goes beyond just the target frogs themselves and extends to the wider biodiversity and the ecosystem health as a whole.
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In the 1970s and 1980s, the team explained, the top suppliers of frogs’ legs to Europe were India and Bangladesh.
However, both countries went on to ban exports of the delicacies when their wild frog populations collapsed.
Since then, Indonesia has taken up the mantle of top exporter. However, the country’s large-legged frog species are now dwindling in the wild — one after another — causing “a fatal domino effect for species conservation.”
Similar declines are also being seen in Albania and Turkey, also major exporters of frogs’ legs to the European Union.
While commercial frog farms — such as those being operated in Vietnam — may seem like a good solution to alleviate pressure on wild frog populations, these still come with problems, Dr Altherr and her colleagues note.
However, they cautioned, these farms still require restocking from wild species.
Alongside this, the farming of non-native species like the American bullfrog risks the accidental introduction of invasive species.
Such had the potential to lead to the spread of disease, as well as “genetic pollution” and hybridisation among local frog populations.
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According to the researchers, their study has highlighted the difficulties in getting clear and concrete information on the international trading of frogs’ legs — with the data that there is being “scattered across different, unconnected databases.
Lead author and herpetologist Dr Mark Auliya of the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change added: “The international trade in frogs’ legs is a black box.”
There is, he added, a “lack of species-specific trade data — which would be needed to ensure sustainability”, “large-scale mislabelling in trade” and inherent challenges involved in identifying frog species from their “processed, skinned and frozen” legs.
The experts noted that, in the course of their investigation, they were unable to find any published data on whether, on being imported into the EU, pesticide residues and other potential toxic substances in processed frogs or their legs are being monitored.
The researchers said: “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 medical substances within commercial farms we strongly recommend that this monitoring become an urgent near-future task for importing countries.”
However, they conceded, “the complexity of issues underlying the frogs’ legs trade is not a priority policy item for the EU.”
The team are calling for the EU to take the lead on listing the most-affected frog species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, for short) — which they said would help to monitor the frogs’ legs trade and ensure its sustainability going forward.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Conservation.
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