Last month, organizers and supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) dressed in monkey costumes and dumped wheelbarrow-loads of coconuts at Publix's corporate office in Lakeland. They were protesting the grocery chain's business with a Thailand-based company that reportedly exploits monkeys.
PETA Asia went undercover last year on eight Thai farms where they allege monkeys are forced into labor. Some of those farms supply coconuts to Chaokoh, one of the South Pacific nation's leading producers of coconut milk. The investigation found that monkeys were forced to pick coconuts by twisting the fruits until they fall off trees, and also to perform tricks for tourists. The animals were confined in small enclosures or chained to old tires.
"Many monkeys displayed repetitive behavior indicative of extreme mental anguish, including one who chewed on his own limbs," the animal-rights organization states on its website. "One coconut farmer confirmed that when monkeys are terrified and try to defend themselves, handlers pull their teeth out."
Following the investigation, a number of U.S.-based grocers stopped selling Chaokoh products: Costco, Wegmans, Walgreens, Food Lion, and, just this week, Target.
But Publix, Florida's favorite chicken-tender sub purveyor and grocery store, has held out.
Yesterday, USA Today reported that Theppadungporn Coconut Co. Ltd., the Thailand-based producer of Chaokoh coconut milk, has denied using monkeys and had previously told the newspaper that it "has audited coconut plantations using a third party. It shared a copy of the 14-page 'Monkey-Free Coconut Due Diligence Assessment,' which says 64 farms out of 817 were randomly selected and 'did not find the use of monkey for coconut harvesting.'"
And earlier today, Publix told CNN Business that it "has reviewed third-party audits of [Theppadungporn] and that Thailand's ambassador to the U.S. assured the grocer that monkeys are 'not used in the commercial harvesting of coconuts.'"
According to PETA, the audit system is inadequate — farms simply hide monkeys until the auditors leave or only bring in the animals during times of harvest — and the organization is continuing to pressure Publix to drop the product.
Publix stores in Hialeah, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, West Miami, Brickell, Doral, Pinecrest, and other areas sell Chaokoh-brand coconut milk.
A Publix spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment from New Times.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.