Monkey labour to harvest coconuts on an industrial scale for its export industry “is almost non-existent” in Thailand, Minister of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit said on Monday.
He was denying allegations made by US-based animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) that the monkeys are habitually tortured and abused by the Thai farmers who train them.
Last week, BBC reported that several supermarkets in the UK had removed coconut products from Thailand in response to a report from Peta, which said pigtailed macaques in Thailand were treated like “coconut-picking machines”.
Peta claimed that each macaque is forced to pick as many as 1,000 coconuts per day.
Jurin told reporters at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport that macaques may be used in small-scale operations but stressed that images circulating online could misrepresent the reality of the situation.
“There are pictures of monkeys collecting coconuts for tourism purposes. That way of life may be captured in video clips, which has resulted in the misunderstanding,” he said.
Department of International Trade Promotion director-general Somdet Susomboon on Sunday said the commerce ministry has instructed its commercial counsellor at the Thai Trade Office in London to explain to foreign customers and retailers that getting coconuts picked by monkeys is not an exercise in cruelty.
Somdet said the ministry will clarify the situation to all involved parties, especially those in Europe and the UK, so they will have a better understanding of the Thai way of life.
He will also invite foreign diplomats in Thailand to see how coconuts are picked and how coconut milk is produced.
Somdet went on to say that this is not the first time that this issue has come up, adding that he had provided explanations last year as well. He said that Thailand has strictly enforced laws related to the prevention of cruelty on animals and animal welfare.
Jurin said the Department of International Trade Promotion will call a meeting on Wednesday with all parties involved in the production process to discuss the issue and seek solutions. He will also invite representatives of Peta to monitor the coconut-picking process as well as the making of coconut milk and oil.
Like last year, the ministry will maintain the target of coconut exports at 12.3 billion baht ($400 million). Of the 12.3 billion baht worth of exports last year, 13 per cent was shipped to the EU, eight per cent of which was sent to the UK.
Last year, Thailand produced 788,000 tonnes of coconut-based products, 113,000 tonnes of which was coconut milk. Of the total milk produced, 70 per cent was consumed locally and the rest exported. Thailand has also been importing coconuts from Indonesia.
Niran Wongvanit, a trainer at the Klong Noi Monkey Training Centre in Muang district, Surat Thani, insists there is no cruelty involved in training the animals to pick coconuts. He said the trainers treat the monkeys like their own kids.
The venue has trained monkeys for agricultural purposes for over 100 years. It is also an agri-tourism venue.
THE NATION (THAILAND)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK