By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, Jul 7 (efe-epa).- Macaque monkeys have been used in Thailand to pick coconuts for over a century but ecologists and animal rights activists have called for an international boycott of the coconut industry due to the alleged abuse of the animals.
Last week, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a campaign to shed light on the use of the primates, which are captured illegally and trained to climb trees and pick coconuts used to produce milk, flour and other products that are exported across the world by Thai companies such as Aroy-D and Chaokoh.
The Aroy-D group, one of the biggest coconut milk exporters, on Tuesday denied that its products were made from fruits harvested by monkeys, a day after the Thai government defended the sector in the face of animal abuse allegations.
The animal rights NGO said in a statement:”PETA Asia investigators visited eight farms on which captive monkeys were forced to collect coconuts, including those supplying Thailand’s major coconut milk producers, as well as several monkey-training facilities and a coconut-picking competition using monkeys. At each one, they documented abuse and exploitation.”
A video released by the group showed tied and caged monkeys with apparent signs of extreme stress. The footage showed how they were used to climb the high coconut trees and pick the fruit.
“Denied the opportunity to move around freely, socialize with others, or do anything else that’s meaningful to them, these intelligent animals slowly lose their minds. Driven to desperation, they pace and circle endlessly on the barren, rubbish-strewn patches of dirt that they’re chained to,” added the NGO, which opposes abuse and consumption of animals.
In response, a number of British supermarket chains have stopped stocking products of firms involved in the Thai coconut industry, with the sector braced for massive losses.
In 2019, Thailand exported coconut milk worth 12.76 billion baht ($408 million) to more than 120 countries, with the United States (35 percent), Australia (9 percent) and the United Kingdom (8 percent) forming the main markets, according to official data.
PETA has said that around 16,000 stores around the world have committed to stop selling products of the companies named in their investigation, after British chains Walgreens Boots Alliance, Waitrose, Co-op, Ocado and Morrisons and US-based Ahold Delhaize and Dutch retailer Albert Heijn pledged to drop items sourced from suppliers using monkey labor.
The activists claimed that the harvest using monkeys was also less efficient because they couldn’t distinguish between ripe and unripe coconuts and added that producers in Brazil, Colombia and Hawaii have been collecting the fruit with the help of hydraulic lifts on tractors, ropes or platforms, without turning to the abuse of animals.
In Thailand, the PETA allegations have been rejected by the government, which insisted that monkeys were not used for coconut products billed for export. Authorities are set to meet with companies of the sector and the nonprofit on Wednesday to discuss the issue.
Aroy-D sought to pacify critics by claiming in a Facebook post that its products did not use coconuts harvested by macaques.
The company said that its internationally-sold products were collected by (human) gatherers and processed in factories.
Some smaller producers have told local media outlets that the use of monkeys for harvesting was a tradition dating back to over a century ago and the animals — which are raised in captivity for the purpose — guarantee a more efficient harvest.
A number of Thai netizens, such as Phacha Phanomvan, have also criticized the PETA campaign, citing anthropological studies that said the monkeys are treated as “family members,” in small coconut farms, while adding that large plantations did not use animals.
Phacha said that PETA should have used legal means to complain against individual violations if they had proof instead of launching an “indiscriminate campaign” against the entire industry, adding that Thailand had laws in place to fight animal abuse. EFE-EPA