Frogs jump back into the news, and this time with cholera

Tongchuan Aquatic Market in Putuo
Tongchuan Aquatic Market in Putuo

I’ve been monitoring an increased amount of traffic the past two weeks coming to a post of mine about the illegal trade of wild frogs in Shanghai. The spike of interest in frogs instantly got me thinking that a possible story was brewing, and, sure enough, the inclination was well-founded. A report published on June 3 in the People’s Daily announced: Bullfrogs tested for cholera in Shanghai.

In my initial brief, I noted that wild frogs (vs. bullfrogs) carry more disease. This no longer appears to be a sound statement. Last week 400 kilograms of bullfrogs were removed from the Tongchuan Aquatic Market in Putuo district, the largest of its kind in Shanghai, for suspecting to carry bacteria associated with cholera, a disease of the intestines that is spawned in unhygienic water and food sources.

Government food safety signs in this area pronounce that the “sale of frog, toad, snake and other wildlife animals are prohibited, but bullfrogs raised on controlled farms, usually in Fujian, are allowed.

A "food safety" sign which reads: "In accordance with the law, please protect wildlife animals. The sale of frogs, toads snakes and other wildlife are prohibited."
A "food safety" sign which reads: "In accordance with the law, please protect wildlife animals. The sale of frogs, toads snakes and other wildlife are prohibited."

I went to follow up the story myself and found that, in general, the handling of the bullfrogs appeared sanitary, but sections of the market were quite sordid, even when the most lenient of China wet-market standards are applied. From a glance, the business is conducted with care: bullfrogs packaged in green nylon nets aren’t overcrowded; most of the vendors I talked to used gloves to weigh them out.

But how such an infectious disease cropped in the first place isn’t exactly a mystery; when I visited, areas around the wobbly iron floor in the part of the market with the most frogs were caked with fish scales and the innards from a varying amount of sea creatures displaced like pieces of a scattered puzzle.

Vendors do their best to wash and sweep up all this waste periodically, which finds itself through the cracks between the wobbly iron floors into the sewers below, but in some places it is clear that the guts have already adhered to parts of tiles in the stalls.

When frogs are sold, vendors grab their bodies, legs writhing about, and stuff them into plastic bags. Once quarantined to their new space, they quickly settle down with astonishing equanimity. But before accepting their fate, it is very probable that some frogs escape the grips of vendors and leap about the scummy floor before being recollected and placed back in the net.

I witnessed a young man make one such choice when a three-foot salmon suddenly lobbed itself at me from a nearby tank. The dense fish thrust up from the water and into my right leg before I made a panicked retreat with a few spastic steps. It lay there for a good 15 seconds with me yelling to whoever would answer, “Hello! This fish just jumped out!”

Eventually a young man swooped in with a long fishing net, scooped the salmon up and tossed it back into the tank, then quietly returned to chat with vendors in the next stall.

Local officers have taped up recent newspaper clippings around the market to further encourage that proper sanitary measures be taken. Regular tests of reported contamination can already help mitigate the spread of disease, but I’d continue to keep an eye out for any funny frog news and stay away from the dish.

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