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How Europe’s love for frog legs is wreaking havoc elsewhere

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The European Union is the largest importer of frog legs from wild frog species. The trade poses a serious risk of extinction of frog species due to a lack of transparency and legislation, scientists say.

Each year, the European Union imports an estimated 4,000 tons of frogs’ legs. That’s the equivalent of about 200 million frogs being killed to meet demand. The majority of those animals are caught in the wild, say a group of scientists and conservationists

Blind spot

In a study in the journal conservation, they underline that this trade increases the risk of the extinction of local and regional frog species in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey and Albania. These are the main source countries for the EU market.

Between 2011 and 2020, the EU imported a total of 40,700 tonnes of frog legs, representing 0.8 to 2 billion frogs. Indonesia accounted for more than 70 percent of that trade. The figures make the EU the world’s largest importer of frogs’ legs from wild-caught species.

Trade is likely to be a major factor in declining amphibian populations in source countries and is also fueling increased use of pesticides. They are called in to absorb the role that wild frog species play in the ecosystem, says Sandra Altherr, biologist and co-founder of the German NGO Pro Wildlife.

‘The trade in frog legs therefore not only has direct consequences for the frog populations themselves, but also for biodiversity and the health of the entire ecosystem,’ says Altherr, who participated in the study. She describes the trade as a ‘blind spot’, with little information about the traded species, their origin or the environmental impact.

Lack of data

According to lead author Mark Auliya of the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change, the lack of transparent data is concerning. Since the currently most important species involved in the frog leg trade are not listed in CITES, there is no database to measure the volumes, species and countries involved in the international wildlife trade. accurately document trade,” he says.

Previous research in Turkey suggests that hunting large-legged species drastically increases the risk of extinction in the short term. Equivalent studies at other locations are lacking, conservationists say.

Diseases

According to Auliya, it is not at all the responsibility of conservationists to establish the sustainability of the trade through self-funded studies: ‘That research should be carried out and funded by the traders, in collaboration with experts, to ensure that the catch of species is sustainable.’

Co-author Alice Hughes, an associate professor at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in southern China, says the lack of trade screening is also a problem for disease transmission. “There are no regulations for biosafety. That means things like the ranavirus and chytrid fungus can get into the rivers and contaminate native populations. That danger is completely ignored,” she explains.

Sustainable trade

‘Europeans may think that their frog legs are grown entirely sustainably,’ Hughes adds. ‘What we know is that both farmed and wild-caught individuals of a variety of species end up on European plates. Many of them are probably not grown or caught sustainably.’

Conservationists are calling for urgent action to curb the potential dangers and ensure that the frog leg trade is sustainable.

“We are urging the EU to launch a CITES listing initiative so that trade is at least done on species-level data, and to monitor sustainability,” said Altherr. ‘Consumers also need to be aware of the many problems associated with the trade in frogs’ legs. And we haven’t even mentioned the cruel methods used to kill the animals.’

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