France’s love of frog legs is contributing to species decline, experts warn

There are few things more French in the public imagination than frog legs, but a group of scientists have warned France to bring its consumption of the oft-sautéed delicacy under more stringent regulation.

The global harvest and trade in frog legs is poorly tracked and could be leading to species decline in countries such as Indonesia and Turkey, signatories said in an open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron.

Between 2010 and 2019, the European Union imported the legs of up to about 2 billion frogs, according to a study in Nature Conservation. Over that period, France imported 30,015 tons of frog legs.

France’s official tourism website cites frog legs, or cuisses de grenouille, with butter and parsley as “an iconic French dish, controversial yes, but in the end, enjoyed the world over.”

The letter to Macron was signed by European conservation organizations Pro Wildlife, Robin des Bois and Veterinarians for Biodiversity, and included scientists from Cambridge and Oxford.

They urged France to take steps to bring frog legs under the control of CITES, a global treaty that regulates international trade in animals and animal parts. “Recent field studies indicate that several species and populations are already experiencing a significant decline,” the letter’s authors wrote.

Climate change is driving many amphibians toward extinction

The majority of frog legs sold to the E.U., with France the biggest consumer, are collected from the wild, according to a report published last year by the CITES Secretariat.

The CITES report noted that there was poor data and record-keeping of the global trade in frogs outside of the United States, and that the species are often not identified. It also said Indonesia is the biggest source of frog legs sold in the E.U.

But Mirza D. Kusrini, a professor of forest resources conservation at Indonesia’s IPB University who has studied the impact of exports of frog legs on local species, said by phone that she did not share the concerns raised in the letter.

The two most common species harvested had stable populations despite the “millions and millions” collected from the wild each year, her research showed. They breed year-round and thrive in rice paddies, she added.

“I don’t believe that most Indonesian scientists would agree with the letter,” she said.

The letter to Macron mentions the two species she studied and one other, all found in Indonesia and none of which are endangered. It also pointed to a study of Anatolian water frog populations in Turkey, a species listed as vulnerable, which found its numbers were dropping 20 percent per year because of overharvesting for international export.

“Frog populations native to France and the E.U. are protected against commercial exploitation; the E.U. should no longer permit the overexploitation of frog species and populations in the major supplying countries,” they wrote.

Jodi Rowley, herpetology department lead at the Australian Museum and at the University of New South Wales, who was not involved in the study, said there was a lack of information on the international harvesting and trade of frogs.

“There is this global trade in amphibians, which can certainly be non-sustainable,” she said. “When things come under the control of CITES, at least, you can actually look at the numbers and regulate it a little bit more.”

Amphibians are the most threatened class of vertebrates globally, with more species battling for survival than mammals, birds and reptiles, though this is for several reasons including the global spread of the deadly chytrid fungus.

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