Eating Frogs to Extinction
The French are famous for eating frog legs but they are not alone
The French are renowned for their love of frog legs. They import between 2500 and 4000 tonnes per year, mainly from Indonesia and China. Among the English, this has earned the French the nickname ‘Frogs’. Actually, the nickname is a little harsh when you consider in just how many countries these amphibians are consumed. At least ten other European countries eat them and the second biggest importer in the world is the United States. The English may have turned away from eating frogs but cooked bones found at an archaeological dig near Amesbury show that they haven’t always been so finicky in their eating habits. In the US, the red-legged frog was eaten to near extinction in California during the gold rush.
Until 1980 most of the frogs consumed in France were farmed or captured locally. Following a major plummet in their numbers here, it has been made illegal to farm or capture frogs, with the exception of a few departments. These still allow capture but you may do so purely for your own consumption and never for sale. If you are caught poaching frogs in this country you are liable to a fine of up to 10 000 Euros.
Several other countries in Europe have banned frog hunting but all have failed to address the question of imports. Allowing continued imports simply pushes the problem into another area of the world and does nothing to support the overall frog population. This short-sighted approach simply transfers the problem rather than solves it.
At the moment we are losing amphibians at 3.79 percent per year with at least 200 species having gone extinct since 1970.
Amphibians are uniquely susceptible to environmental change. They often inhabit very small ranges and any sudden alteration in conditions can quickly wipe an entire species off the map. Because amphibians have porous skin and because they live part of their lives in both water and on land, pollution poses a major threat to their survival. Higher levels of UV-B due to global weather change can quickly destroy their soft-shelled eggs. What is more, they now face new threats from diseases which are easily spread by farming under intense conditions and by exporting their flesh.
Since 1995, researchers in the US have noticed large numbers of frogs with deformities. These include missing limbs and facial deformities. There is still some debate as to the cause but many are suggesting that pollution could be the primary culprit. That has still to be proven but what is happening to frogs seems to indicate some sort of ecosystem breakdown to which we need to sit up and start paying attention.
No one is quite sure how many frogs are being killed for human consumption. Estimates vary widely and lie somewhere between 180 million and 1 billion frogs per annum.
In most countries, both farming and hunting are unregulated and slaughter often consists of little more than cutting off the legs with a pair of scissors and leaving the frog to die.
Frogs are a crucial part of our ecosystem, as India found out. After allowing years of uncontrolled hunting, frog numbers dropped off so steeply that it led to a dramatic increase in mosquitoes and all the diseases associated with those insects. The situation became so bad that in 1980 the Indian government banned frog hunting altogether.
In April, Vittel in the Voges department will celebrate its annual Fete des Cuisses de Grenouille or frog leg festival. Attendees will be able to purchase frog legs prepared in any number of different fashions including in quiches, tartlets and even dipped in chocolate. Over two days 7 tonnes of legs are likely to be consumed. None of those people eating there will be choosing frog legs out of hunger or through lack of an alternative protein source. In fact, most people will bite into their meal just for the novelty factor.
This is just one example of how we humans can damage the planet with our thoughtless eating habits. Many of the people at the festival will have no idea that the frogs that they are chewing on are endangered, or about the conditions under which they were farmed, captured or slaughtered.
Few will even realize that their meal is imported. It will all be just a day out and a bit of a laugh.
I don’t want to get into pointing a finger at these people. Putting myself on a pedestal and looking down my nose will get me nowhere and prevents me from seeing my own failings. I still eat meat, though very little these days, and I am sure that I engage in many other habits that are far from conducive to a healthier planet. What I would encourage, is that we try to educate ourselves better about how we consume, hopefully before we drive more animals into the abyss of extinction. Governments also need to engage in more joined-up thinking rather than merely pushing problems like this into areas with even less interest in protecting their wildlife.
We know that some amphibians have been on the planet for as long as 350 million years. Exactly how long frogs have been here has not yet been fully proven but we do know that they were here during the Jurassic period 190 million years ago. That means they survived the mass extinctions that took place during the Cretaceous-Palaeogene era that saw the demise of seventy-five percent of this planet’s plant and animal species. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they were to go extinct on our watch?