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Was Your Coconut Oil Harvested By Monkey’s?

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Photos Courtesy of jinterwas on Flickr, and the Dailymail.

Did you guys know that your coconut oil and products containing it could easily have been harvested by monkeys?

Yeah, I was shocked to hear this too.  Honestly, it sounds like some kind of clickbait meant to catch your eye.  But it isn't, sadly.  When I first read about these monkey's being used as basically "unpaid" and "forced" labor, I was absolutely horrified.  Outraged, even.  It was one of those moments where I wanted to throw out the internet and just leave.  Maybe go off the grid.  Y'know.  All perfectly normal responses.

So, after I'd calmed down a bit I went and I did a lot more research.  Because I wanted to know more about what was ACTUALLY happening.  Why it was happening, and what can WE do to prevent it?  It turns out there's a lot more grey area here than I had originally thought.  So, lets get right to it.

Now For The Real Questions, What Is It And Why Is Using Monkeys To Nab Some Coconuts Bad? 

Okay, lets break this down a bit.

  1. What is it?

    It's when we take monkeys, either bred in captivity or taken from the wild and train them to harvest coconuts.  They will climb tall trees and knock the coconuts down, then fetch them from the ground and help load them into a truck.
  2. Why is it happening?

    As more people are finding out about the serious lack of ethics often found in palm oil (gods help you if you're a stray wild animal who's wandered onto a palm oil farm) as well as the wanton destruction of forest to make more room for palm farming, people have been looking for and found alternatives to palm oil.  One of the main alternatives being used is coconut oil.  So, as demand for it skyrockets the industry is working to keep up.

    Which leads us to monkeys who can gather several hundred more coconuts a day than your average human farmer.

    GREY AREA: Seeing as there isn't really standard or efficient ways of getting the coconuts down this is why the monkeys are being utilized.  Just like here in America a hundred years ago, we used large farm animals to harvest our crops, that's what this is like there.  

    They don't have "tractors" to harvest the coconuts, and given it's dangerous nature to people this is their current solution.  It's dangerous because these particular trees are VERY tall, so to climb them would be hazardous and the other option is to poke the coconuts down with a stick.

    Which, I think we can see why that would be dangerous.  Lots of head injuries or head injury related deaths to be had there.  We don't HAVE a... a tree tractor (I'm sure there will be a better name for it when it's invented).

    It also seems to have a longer history of use in places like Thailand. I haven't really looked into the HISTORY of this practice, merely how it is currently being used.
  3. Why is this bad?

    Here's the real important question, am I right?  It's all well and good to know that this is happening, but what is truly going on that's so bad?  Well, for one, some of he monkeys are taken from wild mothers who end up shot so that their babies can go work for the farmers.  Even if the mothers aren't shot they are caught in cages and taken from their wild families.  Some of the other baby macaque's (the majority of the monkey's used are Pig Tailed Macaques) come from mothers currently in captivity (which still isn't good).

    However they are acquired, they end up in "Monkey School", I've seen reports of a Buddhist Monkey School that tries to train them in a positive way, creating a symbiotic relationship.  However, this is only one school and most others are not this kind.  Not At all.

    Most other schools use negative reinforcement to train their monkeys.  While they are being trained they are kept tethered to a perch, deprived of social interaction with their own kind.

    Life after training often doesn't get too much better.  Though many of the farmers state they do care deeply about their monkeys, they still work long hours, kept on a leash and collar so they don't escape. 

    And this is just the short version of all this information.

This photo is courtesy of Gido on Flickr

So, the whole grey area thing comes into play again.  I think most of us here reading this can agree that this is a bad practice.  And I personally will be doing my best to avoid coconut products harvested in this way.  It's hard to swallow this reality.  

But, instead of penalizing these poor farmers lets work to get them better tools that are more efficient than a monkey without a great risk to the farmers and their workers health.

​Because for the most part, these are just people trying to provide for their families the best way they can.

After learning stuff like this, it really does start to make you wonder, do some of the products I use attribute to this?  Sadly, the answer probably yes.  At least right now.  Though, there have been several companies that have come out to say they do not use coconuts from farms that use monkeys to harvest them.  For a list of all those companies, go on over here to Animal Place.

Here is a small list of some of the companies that have assured us they don't use coconuts that come from the use of monkey labor:

  • So Delicious
  • Silk
  • Trader Joe's
  • Nutiva
  • Coconut Bliss
  • Harmless Harvest

We can at least rest assured that our So Delicious ice cream is safe.  But, others are not looking so good such as Mercola who has not clarified, and Daiya who hasn't even responded yet.

So keep an eye out for updates that companies may release further explaining this stuff, and keep ASKING.  Lets get in front of this problem and make it go away before it becomes so big that fighting it is nearly impossible.

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