Safeway, Target and Costco and Albertsons are joining a boycott of a brand of coconut milk after a PETA investigation found the use of monkey labour in its supply chain.
PETA Asia investigators visited eight farms in Thailand in 2019 and found monkeys being forced to pick coconuts. One of those farms, according to PETA, is one of Thailand’s major coconut milk producers. The PETA investigation also found similar issues at monkey-training facilities.
Vegans and others choose coconut milk instead of cow’s milk because they don’t want to support the use of animals for food consumption.
But the PETA investigation found terrified young monkeys in Thailand chained, trained and forced to climb trees to pick coconuts used to make coconut milk, meat, flour, oil, and other products.
The investigation led to the Thai government and the industry saying the practise was minimal.
In 2020, a new PETA Asia investigation found that monkeys are still being used at many farms and that monkey schools are still in operation and coconut-picking competitions using monkeys are still taking place.
Even though many retailers around the world have stopped purchasing Thai coconut products involved in the practise, the Thai coconut industry, according to PETA, is still minimizing the use of monkey labour.
A monkey trainer in southern Thailand told Reuters that few monkeys are involved in harvesting coconuts for export, disputing an activist report which has caused several British supermarkets to ban coconut products from the country.
Nirun Wongwanich, 52, who trains monkeys to fetch coconuts at a “monkey school” in the province of Surat Thani, said most coconuts used for export are harvested by humans with poles.
Only a few farms in the south use monkeys for taller coconut trees, he said, denying accusations of cruelty.
“There is no truth to that. I have been with monkeys for over 30 years … I have a bond, a relationship with them,” Nirun told Reuters, adding that he trains six to seven monkeys a year.
PETA has said it believes virtually all coconuts from Thailand are picked by monkeys.
However, Thailand’s government has denied the PETA report, saying the use of monkey labour is “almost non-existent”.
Mananya Thaiset, Thai deputy minister of agriculture, said Thailand’s 200,000 coconut growers overwhelmingly use human labour and machines for harvesting.
“Even all the monkeys in the entire forest won’t be enough for the industry,” Mananya said.
A PETA official on Saturday rejected the Thai arguments.
“The industry’s efforts to side-track the issue with a count of the number of farms and monkeys … only shows the world they are trying to do more of the same – keep monkeys in chains,” PETA Asia official Nirali Shah said.
Thailand last year produced more than 806,000 tons of coconut from 1,243.7 square kilometres (480.2 square miles), government data shows. It exported coconut milk worth 12.3 billion baht ($396 million), about 8% to Britain.