PETA activists dress up in monkey suits, chains to protest at Austin Whole Foods

Shoppers clashed with animal activists in Downtown Austin on Wednesday, as PETA members dressed in monkey suits and chains staged a protest at the Whole Foods Market flagship store on North Lamar Blvd. at West 5th Street. 

Protesters urged the chain to stop selling coconut milk from Thailand, an industry which PETA claims is driven by the forced labor of endangered pig-tailed macaques.

"Wholefoods is still sourcing coconut milk from Thailand, despite being fully aware of the rampant abuse of endangered monkeys there, who are often illegally snatched from their forest homes as infants. They are whipped, chained, kept in cages in isolation, and they are forced to spend long hours picking heavy coconuts," said senior PETA campaigner Amanda Brody.

Whole Foods sells at least two varieties of Thai coconut milk, but insists monkeys are not involved in their production.

The protest crossed a line when demonstrators began blocking cars from getting into the parking lot.

"You have that right, but there are certain limits that you have to operate within," said Dr. Eddy Carder, a constitutional law professor at Prairie View A&M University.

Car after car gave up and backed out onto the street. But one man in a pickup truck wasn’t having it. He hit the gas, lurching toward protesters. Seconds later, the man got out of his truck and started yelling at the protesters. Police stepped in, telling him to leave.

About two minutes later, police gave protesters an ultimatum, saying over a loudspeaker: "This is the Austin police. You need to get out of the driveway. If you do not get out of the driveway you will be arrested."

Protesters quickly complied, and things cooled off. No one was arrested.

"This really worked out much more positively that many of the other protests that we've seen. This is an illustration of private property and freedom of speech and protest," said Carder.

In a statement to FOX 7 Austin on Wednesday night, a Whole Foods spokesperson said the following:

"We take this issue seriously and have previously confirmed our private label suppliers do not use animal labor in producing these products. We have reinvestigated this issue out of an abundance of caution and have again confirmed that coconuts from Thailand used in these products are harvested without the use of animal labor."