Increasingly popular vegan and vegetarian foods results in more cruelty against macaques

More people than ever before are becoming vegetarians or vegan. They want to do something to stop the meat-trade which contributes to global warming through forest destruction and methane production and which incorporates cruelty to animals. So, becoming a vegan or vegetarian is good for animal welfare and the planet generally. This is a strongly growing trend. However, new vegan foods contain coconut-derived ingredients. The majority of coconuts sold across the world come from several countries in Southeast Asia where they are picked by enslaved primates according to Nathan Winograd in an email to me.

Enslaved macaque monkey trained to pick coconuts
Enslaved macaque monkey trained to pick coconuts. Image: Nathan Winograd.

The three top coconut growing countries are: Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. The abuse of enslaved pig-tailed macaques was uncovered during the production of a new edition of All American Vegan, a cookbook. It led to a study on this abuse and bans on primate-harvested coconuts by American and British companies. Coconuts and coconut products such as coconut milk, coconut oil and coconut water are often used in vegan foods and products such as vegan burgers and vegan cheeses.

In 2020 there was an increase of 14% compared to the previous year in the number of plant-based products sold. The market value of meat alternatives is expected to grow from US$4.6 billion in $2018 to $85 billion in 2030. Dairy alternatives will see a larger growth. They will dominate the plant-based products market.

This growth is concerned with reducing animal cruelty in part. But ironically there is a weakness in that equation in that the coconut market is dependent upon the abusive of primates who pick them due to their agility and ability to climb. They are trained to pick coconuts. As infants they are taken from their family by poachers who kill their mothers. They are then chained at the neck and trained to climb trees and pick the fruit.

During this training they are regularly beaten and worked to exhaustion. They are fed with poor quality foods and deprived of the socialisation with other macaques that they need. As a consequence, they suffer from PTSD and sometimes engage in self-mutilation.

They can end up with mental illness and when they are no longer useful because of their age they are left to die in the wild. Sadly, vegans and vegetarians are improving animal welfare on the one hand and making it worse on the other hand. There clearly needs to be more work carried out in preventing this form of animal abuse.


In Thailand, macaque monkeys have been used to pick coconuts for over a hundred years. The abuse has come to light internationally because of the increase in vegan and vegetarian products using coconut ingredients.

In July 2020 ecologists an animal rights activists called for an international boycott of the coconut industry. PETA launched a campaign to highlight the abuse. The Thai companies involved in primate enslavement are allegedly those such as Aroy-D and Chaokoh. The former is one of the biggest coconut milk exporters. They deny that its products are made from coconuts harvested by monkeys. The Thai government also defended the business.

A PETA Asia investigation visited eight farms in which there were captive monkeys. In each one they documented abuse and exploitation of the primates. A video has been released showing caged and tied up monkeys apparently suffering from extreme stress. The video shows how they climb the high coconut trees and pick the fruit. They lose their minds because they been torn from the natural environment. They are chained to barren stretches of dirt where they pace and circle; signs of deep stress and mental disturbance. In response a number of British supermarket chain stop stocking products of firms involved in the Thai coconut business.

In 2019 Thailand exported US$408 million’s worth of coconut milk to more than 120 countries. 35% of the output went to the United States and 8% went to the UK. PETA say that around 16,000 stores around the world have committed to stop selling products of the companies named in their investigation.

Aroy-D posted on Facebook that its products do not use coconuts harvested by macaques. They say that their products are collected by human gatherers and processed in factories. It said that some smaller producers claim that the use of monkeys to harvest coconuts was a tradition going back a hundred years or more. These animals are raised in captivity for the purpose.

In defence, some Thai people have criticised PETA saying that the monkeys are treated as family members in small coconut farms and that large plantations do not use animals to pick the crop.

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Post Category: Animal cruelty