It’s Save the Frogs Time – Yes Really




Time to Save the Frogs — or better their legs —  as global culinary demand for these sparks growing concern that Freddie the Frog is headed for extinction. France alone reportedly consumes 4000 tonnes of cuisses de grenouille a year and scientists warn the amphibian trade is causing over-harvesting.

Save the Frogs Day is celebrated on April 27

The Fifth International Save the Frogs Day is celebrated worldwide on April 27th while in France, and by ironic coincidence, the 40th National Frog Legs Eating Day (40ème Foire aux Grenouilles de Vittel) takes place over the weekend April 14th and 15th at Vittel in the Vosges, France’s Cuisses de Grenouilles capital, where tonnes of frogs legs will be prepared, tasted, judged and despatched by the  Fellowship of Frogs’ Legs Tasters  (Confrerie des Tastes Cuisses de Grenouilles).

“Il pleut, il mouille, c’est la fête à la grenouille, il pleut, il fait pas beau, c’est la fête à l’escargot”… (“It rains, it gets wet, it’s the frog’s fete, it rains, it’s gloomy, it’s the snail’s fete”) — a popular saying.

There are some signs of an incipient public awareness campaign in Europe  —  “Frogs live better with their legs” — against the over-harvesting of these environmentally important amphibians, but a general lack of knowledge about the impact on the species of long-established culinary custom, is proving a significant obstacle.

The world’s top importers of frogs legs, mainly from Asia, are France, Belgium and the United States as this map from a Conservation Biology scientific paper shows:

This 2009 map shows the trade in frogs legs as it was at that time.

 

Amphibians, and frogs in particular, make a substantial
contribution to the gastronomy of several cultures. From
the school cafeterias of France to dinner tables across Asia
and in haute cuisine restaurants throughout the world,
frogs’ legs are on the menu – Save the Frog

 

Frog legs ready for the pan but where do they come from?

As Mike Alexander, French News Online’s environment correspondent writes: “Its time to think twice before sitting down to a eat up a plate of these tiny, imported, amphibian thighs.  April 27th is the fifth International Save the Frog Day and while here in France this day is likely to go largely unnoticed, hopefully readers of this article will help spread the word about an endangered species.

“The English of course have referred to the French as ‘Frogs’ for hundreds of years thanks to the gastronomic status accorded the grenouille and not without reason it turns out. Research on frog leg consumption shows France imports more frog legs than any other country in the world — some 4000 tonnes per annum, give or take a few million frogs. An average frog weighs 125 gms and its legs represent perhaps 20% of its body weight, thus killing a frog to remove its legs for eating is as bad as killing elephants for their tusks, notes Samuel Debrot on the Frogs live better with their legs website

“The French have been eating frogs legs for over a thousand years and consume over seven tonnes in just one weekend at the Foire de la Grenouille at Vittel. The interesting, or rather depressing aspect, is that none of the frogs being chomped with such patriotic fervor are French. The French authorities banned harvesting of frogs in 1980 when they woke up to the fact that local frogs were being eaten to near extinction. Now most come from countries such as Indonesia where nearly all are harvested in the wild.

 

 

“Indonesia indeed is the world’s biggest exporter of frogs. France may be the largest consumer but it is certainly not alone. The United States is the world’s second biggest importer —  with frogs’ legs being very popular in the former French colony of Louisiana, where Rayne styles itself World Frog Capital, as well as in Arkansas and Texas. The world’s most avid frog eaters, though, are almost certainly in Asia mainly Indonesia, China, Thailand and Vietnam where they are a food staple.  South America is also a large market and even Belgium has a big appetite for tiny thighs.  The United Nations estimates that as many as a billion frogs a year are killed for human consumption.

“The real disaster lies in the fact that amphibians are the most threatened animal group in the world. Since 1980 more than 200 species of amphibian, of which frogs make up the greatest part, were pushed into extinction. In 2012 an eminent group of herpetologists sent an open letter to CITES calling for tighter controls on the capture and trade in frogs. One of those herpetologists was Dr. Kerry Kriger, founder of the Save the Frogs charity . I contacted Dr. Kriger for French News Online and asked him if it would not be possible to farm frogs so that there would be no need to extract them from their natural environment.

“He told me that what frog farms there are, form a hotbed of disease and transporting frogs long distances is a primary vector for causing disease in local frog populations. ‘Why force frogs into unhealthy, un-enjoyable and over crowded frog farms to await death so that rich people can have a laugh at their expense, ‘ he asked. And he has a point.

“Most of the frogs eaten in the West are consumed  for the novelty factor alone with little awareness of the effects that this may be having on the environment. Earlier attempts at commercial frog  farming in both France and the US saw a dramatic increase in the often fatal Chytrid fungus in both the farmed and in the wild local frog populations.  The Chytrid fungus has been described as ‘the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates in terms of the number of species impacted, and its propensity to drive them to extinction.’ (Gascon et al 2007). In addition, many of the frogs were farmed from imported frog stock, normally the American Bullfrog. This had further adverse effects with the inevitable escapees consuming and devastating the smaller local frog population.

Skinned Frog-legs on the way to a resto plate

“Frogs are bio indicators. Most inhabit both terrestrial and aquatic environments during the course of their lives — some living as long as six years. Their permeable skins are highly sensitive to absorbing chemicals and they quickly give an accurate indicator of  the health of the biosphere. They also consume many insects and in 1980 India banned the export of frogs, in part because their diminishing numbers were leading to a huge increase in the number of mosquitoes.” 

The Save the Frogs campaign needs donations to continue its work. To help see here:

Donate to help Save the Frogs

 

Freddie the Frog film trailer from 1992:

Story: Mike Alexander
mike@mikealexander.fr

(Additional research: Ken Pottinger)

Mike Alexander is a regular contributor to French News Online, offering topical gardening advice in his monthly column and exploring quirky nature and food habits in France. Read his gardening advice here and here


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