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Could This Lead to a Shortage of Coconut Milk in the West?

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Pig-tailed macaque monkeys, which are being used to harvest coconuts in Thailand, are protected by law in the country, where it’s illegal to own them unless they’re bred in captivity. (iStock/borneo rimbawan)

About six months ago, the Asia branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a report from a 2019 undercover investigation that said Thailand farmers were using monkey labor to supply coconuts to the international market. According to a story in “National Geographic,” the report garnered attention, causing coconut product companies, supermarket chains and the Thai government to assure that monkeys, specifically the pig-tailed macaque, would no longer be forced to harvest coconuts.

But the Feb. 19 story in “National Geographic” said little action has been taken, and that the Asian branch of PETA recently learned that Thailand farmers are still using pig-tailed macaques to gather coconuts.

Coconut milk is growing in popularity worldwide along with other plant-based milks. Thailand is the third-largest exporter of coconuts in the world and growing.

“There is a paradox here, right?” Avinash Desamangalam, research manager for an India-based company that studies the market for alternatives to dairy products, told the “National Geographic.” “Consumers expect coconut milk to be cruelty-free since it doesn’t come from animals, but in reality there is a lot of cruelty involved in terms of using monkey labor.”

The “National Geographic” story said PETA has documented how pig-tailed macaques are trained to climb trees and pick coconuts, and are often kept in small cages when not working. The story also noted that the pig-tailed macaque is protected by law in Thailand, where it’s illegal to own them unless they’re bred in captivity.

Edwin Wiek, an animal welfare advisor to Thailand’s parliament, told “National Geographic” that PETA is “right in stating nothing changed” since its first investigation, and noted that about half the pig-tailed macaques the coconut growers are using were captured in the wild.

Desamangalam told “National Geographic” that more consumers and major retailers, especially in the West, may switch to other non-dairy alternatives to coconut milk if coconut producers and coconut product manufacturers don’t stop using monkey labor.

Click here to read the entire “National Geographic” article.

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