82ºF

Monkey business allowed to continue in rural Florida county

4 monkey farms make Hendry County primate breeding capital of U.S.

A marker identifying the Hendry County line in Florida, one of the country's biggest suppliers of research primates. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)
A marker identifying the Hendry County line in Florida, one of the country's biggest suppliers of research primates. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

LABELLE, Fla. – A Florida appeals court has quashed a lawsuit against Hendry County over two of its monkey farms.

The Naples Daily News reports the initial 2014 suit charged the county had illegally approved a huge monkey breeding farm on the Lee County border without warning area residents. It was later amended to include another farm near Immokalee.

When Circuit Judge James Sloan ruled the county hadn't violated Florida's Sunshine law last year, the three plaintiffs appealed.

After the three-judge panel's decision Wednesday, no more appeals are possible.

Monkey farming has become a lucrative industry in rural Hendry, where over the past dozen years, the 38,000-person county has become the primate breeding capital not just of Florida, but of the United States, with four farms capable of housing at least 10,000 animals.

According to a 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek article, about 20,000 monkeys are flown into the U.S. from around the world and many wind up in farms, like those in Hendry County.

Those monkeys play a huge role in scientific and medical research, Matthew Bailey, president of the National Association for Biomedical Research, told Bloomberg.

Animal testing is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before drugs or vaccines can go to market, and the use of monkeys in that respect has been integral to the development of cures for diseases from typhus to polio, Bailey, who was the executive vice president at the time, told Bloomberg in 2015. They are also essential in studying currently incurable diseases like Alzheimer's and AIDS.

But animal welfare activists oppose the farms and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a group based in California, filed the suit in November 2014, claiming the county approved the new monkey farm in violation of certain zoning restrictions and without a public hearing as required by Florida law, according to Bloomberg. 

The appeals court sided with the monkey farms.