France is catching the frogs from Asia
Frog legs are not part of the common German’s favorite food. In France and Belgium, on the other hand, they are in such high demand that supplies have to be imported – and this is now causing environmental problems. But a clever Frenchman is working on a solution.
KFrog legs are internationally considered to be as typically French as a dish. Crispy fried and seasoned with garlic, they are served in numerous restaurants in the country. Around 4000 tons of the traditional dish are consumed in France every year.
But while the Ministry of Agriculture lists the dish as part of the culinary heritage of the eastern Bourgone-Franche-Comté region, much of the thigh now comes from elsewhere.
In France itself, edible frog species have been protected for decades. Their catch is strictly regulated – as in much of the European Union. In Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, common frogs can be caught under certain conditions and slaughtered between the end of February and April – when they come to the ponds to breed.
For the culinary delight, which is also very popular in Belgium as well as in France, around 2800 tons of frog legs are imported to France from abroad every year – and so the enormous demand for the delicacy in distant countries causes ecological problems.
Because in the largest exporting countries, above all Indonesia, the unrestrained desire in Europe for the delicacy not only threatens the population of rare frog species, but also the balance of ecosystems. “The trade in frogs’ legs is hardly regulated or monitored by the government,” said amphibian expert Ganjar Cahyadi, curator of the Bandung City Zoology Museum in Java. There is no official data on the number of wild frogs in the island state. “We don’t know how many frogs are exported and how many are left in the wild.”
The situation is similar in Vietnam, another important exporter of amphibians. The number of frogs in general has declined significantly here in recent decades, says Mai Nguyen of the animal rights group Humane Society International. “When I was a kid living in the country, it was easy to see and catch frogs. But today – almost 40 years later – it’s hard to find wild frogs at all,” she says. So far there are no plans to limit the sale or export of the animals.
The rainforests in Southeast Asia and especially in Indonesia are known for their great diversity of species – even today previously unknown species are being discovered there. It’s possible that widespread hunting of frogs could wipe out entire species before scientists could describe them, Cahyadi said. More urgently needs to be done for research and, above all, for the protection of animals.
Another point is crucial: Frogs are both prey and hunters – and thus an important part of the ecosystems in which they live. Specially when it comes to the population of insects like grasshoppers and mosquitoes, the croaking amphibians are indispensable.
“Frogs are natural insecticides. They eat insects that can cause problems for agriculture and public health,” explains Cahyadi. “Without frogs, we would have to use more chemicals to control these insects.” This would harm not only the environment but also human health.
One solution could be to focus on breeding for export rather than hunting, Cahyadi believes. This would also benefit the local economy and create jobs.
Frog farms for your favorite dish
Patrick François had a similar idea. 13 years ago, the fishmonger in the southern French town of Pierrelatte near Provence probably pulled the first one frog farm in the country high. “I saw that people were trying to produce more and more locally. That’s why I threw myself in there, »says the breeder.
The project was made possible with a special type of frog that scientists developed. What is special about them: While frogs actually only eat moving animals, these animals also eat what does not move.
From birth to slaughter, the animals spend their entire lives in some of the hundred or so tanks in François’ breeding hall, which are filled with the rushing water and loud croaking of the male frogs. With the idea, François is also pursuing ecological goals with a view to frozen thighs imported from Southeast Asia or live frogs imported from Turkey: “If only that no frogs are taken from the wild.”
The Frenchman supplies about a dozen haute cuisine customers with frogs’ legs. “Not anymore, because our production isn’t huge either.” In the meantime, a handful of other breeders in France have followed François’ example and set up frog farms. The Ministry of Agriculture wrote in 2019 that they had produced around ten tons of frog legs a year and estimated that it could be significantly more in the future. Nevertheless, in the future only a fraction of the annual consumption is likely to come from France itself.
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