According to an announcement by The Center for North American Herpetology (CNAH), the California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 to uphold their recently instated ban on the importation of nonnative frogs and turtles for use as food.
The ban drew criticism from the San Francisco Chinese community, one of the largest consumers of frog legs and turtles in the United States. This in turn prompted a reconsideration hearing in a Sacramento, Calif., room that was filled to capacity with legislators, businesspeople, nonprofit representatives and other members of the public.
Frog populations worldwide have been declining at unprecedented rates, and nearly one-third of the world's amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Up to 200 amphibian species have completely disappeared in recent years and California is home to 16 threatened amphibian species, said CNAH.
Save the Frogs! Founder Kerry Kriger testified at the commission hearing, highlighting the spread of infectious disease and invasive species that he said accompany the frog-leg trade. "Several million bullfrogs from North America that are farmed overseas are imported into California for food each year. A recent study showed that over 60 percent of these frogs are infected with a deadly chytrid fungus that has decimated frog populations in the Sierra Nevada range."
The fungus, which causes a potentially lethal skin disease called chytridiomycosis, has caused the extinction of up to 100 amphibian species worldwide. Furthermore, Kriger said, "bullfrogs and turtles regularly escape or are purposely set free into the wild. They establish populations and damage local ecosystems by eating native frogs and other wildlife."
San Francisco-based legislators Leland Yee, Fiona Ma and Ted Lieu testified in opposition to the ban, stating that it would damage the economy and that it discriminated against the Chinese community and their 5,000 year old history of eating frogs and turtles. Supporters of the ban stated that the majority of frogs the Chinese-American community is eating are bullfrogs from North America, which have only a recent history in Chinese cuisine.
"Cultures necessarily evolve: If they did not, we would have long since eaten the buffalo and the California red-legged frog to complete extinction, as we did the passenger pigeons," Kriger said. "As Americans, we are fortunate to have many choices of food, and thus it is our responsibility to act wisely and ensure that our culinary decisions are not unduly impacting our natural heritage and the future of our planet."
Americans consume 20 percent of the world's frog legs, and scientists estimate that more than a hundred million frogs are taken out of the wild each year for food, said CNAH.