The ongoing dispute over PETA claims of abused monkeys being used to pick coconuts for export in Thailand has continued as Thai government officials, coconut farmers, and the British Prime Minister’s fiancee all have their say.
Following a report and video released by animal rights activist group PETA, which led to several retailers in the United Kingdom and the United States removing Thai-based coconut products from their shelves, there has been fierce debate about the practice of using monkeys to harvest coconuts.
The Thai government responded swiftly to the ban by some western retailers on Thai coconut products by dismissing PETA’s claims that monkeys are abused.
The Deputy Agriculture Minister, Mananya Thaiset, explained that Thailand had developed dwarf coconut trees. Humans, not monkeys, harvest the majority of nuts.
The Deputy Minister continued by explaining that once coconuts are harvested, they are brought to factories for creating coconut milk – all done by humans.
She also invited diplomats from Europe and the United States to visit Thailand and observe the methods used for harvesting coconuts.
Ms. Thaiset also said that she, in conjunction with the Commerce Ministry, would arrange a trip for foreign diplomats to visit a monkey school to observe the local traditions and customs associated with training monkeys, mostly for tourism purposes.
One local farmer who trains monkeys in the southern province of Surat Thani echoed the Deputy Minister’s statement, explaining that “only a few farms in the south use monkeys for taller coconut trees.”
The 52-year-old trainer, Nirun Wongwanich, flatly denied accusations of animal cruelty, saying that he forms a strong bond with the monkeys he trains. He said:
“There is no truth to that (monkey abuse). I have been with monkeys for over 30 years … I have a bond, a relationship with them.”
Despite denials from Thailand, the PETA report continues to gain momentum worldwide with British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, calling on supermarkets in the United Kingdom to boycott Thai coconut products.
Glad Waitrose, Co-op, Boots & Ocado have vowed not to sell products that use monkey labour, while Morrisons has already removed these from its stores.— Carrie Symonds (@carriesymonds) July 3, 2020
Time for ALL supermarkets to do the same.
I’m told Asda, Tesco & Sainsbury’s STILL sell such products. https://t.co/nWbEIHpzFL
“Glad Waitrose, Co-op, Boots & Ocado have vowed not to sell products that use monkey labor,” she tweeted.
PETA also responded to the Thai government’s claims that monkey labor is overwhelmingly not used to harvest coconuts. Asia PETA official, Nirali Shah, said:
“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.”
Should a boycott of Thai coconut products accelerate or continue, it could significantly affect an already struggling economy.
Last year, Thailand produced more than 806,000 tonnes of coconut according to government data. The export of coconut milk was worth 12.3 billion baht last year, with the United Kingdom accounting for around 8 percent of that.