Coconut has become a health trend in recent years, and you probably don’t have to look far to find some in your home, whether hiding in your food stash or bathroom cupboards. But, have you ever wondered where coconuts come from and how people harvest them? A recent PETA report suggests their origins may not be too friendly. Read on to find out more.
Are coconuts good for us?
Coconut ingredients have many possible health benefits. They are antioxidants and may reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. It’s not quite so clear cut though, with some recent studies concluding that coconut water is only a healthier option when compared to fizzy or energy drinks. Canned versions also tend to heavily processed with increased sugar and a loss of nutrients. The healthiest coconut option is, of course, pure coconut with no added flavours.
In the beauty industry, coconuts have played a part for hundreds of years in regions such as India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka; they have been popular in the west since the 1890s when plantations boomed. When applied directly to the skin, coconut oil is an emollient. It also contains skin-conditioning fatty acids, proteins, and complex B vitamins so is very moisturising, anti-ageing and has a temporary plumping effect.
Where do our coconuts come from?
The many coconut products that line our supermarket shelves come from countries such as Brazil, Columbia and Hawaii. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, most imports come into America between October and December from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America and the Pacific Islands. They are then assessed for freshness, compactness, and decay before being graded and shipped to processing factories.
Cruel farming techniques
A recent PETA Asia investigation revealed evidence, backed up by video footage, of Pig-Tailed Macaques being used to harvest this ‘on trend’ commodity in Thailand.
PETA blasted this unethical and abusive farming technique as exploitative and cruel, claiming that farmers tear babies from their natural habitat and troops. They also force them to wear rigid metal collars and shackle them to the ground with chains. According to PETA, many of the monkeys exhibit traits of mental instability such as pacing and circling endlessly on dry dirt patches next to the trees. Some ‘fight back’ with their sharp canine teeth, but these individuals are swiftly removed to prevent injury to the coconut farmers.
Unfortunately, these bright, sociable, and highly intelligent mammals have been picked as ideal candidates for the coconut trade as they are easy to train. They are mainly a frugivorous species, but they will occasionally snack on invertebrates found in the rivers of South East Asia. According to New England Primate Conservancy, the most unusual characteristic is one of ‘puckering’ as a form of communication to signal openness and social warmth.
A booming industry
The demand for coconuts is growing all the time and putting pressure on farmers who are then forcing monkeys to harvest up to 1,000 very heavy coconuts per day. The average size of these animals is approximately 6-12 Kilos and 52 to 60 cm, so this is a heavy load for a fairly small primate to carry.
A spokesperson for the Thailand Government has rejected PETA’S claims stating coconut-picking by monkeys on an industrial scale no longer exists in Thailand according to the Bangkok Post. The commerce minister insisted that this way of farming was akin to the dairy industry’s use of cows. Furthermore, the Bangkok Post states that Thailand’s coconut milk exports are ‘worth around 12.3 billion baht a year, from which 2.25 billion baht, or 18%, comes from the EU. The UK accounts for about 8% of the 2.25-billion-baht figure.’
What can you do?
The best thing you can do is to remove demand and avoid foods and products containing coconuts harvested by monkeys. UK companies such as Waitrose, Ocado, Co-Op and Boots have pulled products containing coconuts harvested by monkeys from their shelves. This is a great start for the UK, but more can be done in the UK and elsewhere.
How do you know which brand to buy?
According to PETA the following brands do not exploit local Macaque troops:
- Ceres Organics
- Coconut Merchant
- Coconuts Organic
- Essential Trading
- Koko Dairy Free
- Lucy Bee
- The Coconut Collaborative
- Three by One
- The Groovy Food company
- Nature’s Way
- Harmless Harvest
PETA says that the rule of thumb is to avoid coconut products from Thailand. Companies such as Aroy-D and Chaokoh utilise monkey labour. More information on how you can help these gregarious and intelligent monkeys can be found via the PETA website. And, don’t forget to spread the word. The more people that know about this, the more likely it is to stop!
Blog by OneKind Planet writer, Fiona MacNeill.