Zoning officials zoning?
LaBELLE, Florida––Monkey-farming is animal agriculture within the meaning of the zoning ordinance in Hendry County, Florida, county officials announced on August 18, 2015.
Hendry County residents opposed to the location and practices of Primate Products and two other nearby laboratory monkey breeding facilities had hoped that they could be closed for alleged land use permit violations.
“There’s no way monkey abortions can constitute agriculture,” raged former CNN news anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell, whose web projects JaneUnchained and TheirTurn have taken up the cause, along with the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, the League of Humane Voters/Florida, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and PETA.
“The pope is an atheist”?
Agreed PETA director of laboratory investigations Justin Goodman, “If importing and experimenting on monkeys is ‘agriculture,’ then the pope is an atheist.
“These monkey abusers are the subject of several current federal investigations for the mistreatment of animals,” Goodwin added, “after a PETA eyewitness investigation uncovered dozens of violations of federal animal-welfare laws and policies at the facility, including allowing monkeys to suffer from fully or partially missing fingers and tails, performing surgeries on monkeys in filthy conditions and without adequate anesthetics, and housing monkeys outdoors in below-freezing conditions with no heat, causing them to sustain severe frostbite.
“Additionally,” Goodwin said, “Hendry County’s secret approval of two monkey facilities without any public input is the subject of a lawsuit. Hendry County’s decision on this zoning issue will inflame the situation, not defuse it, and will certainly inspire even greater efforts to close down these monkey prisons.”
Members of Congress
PETA findings disclosed in June 2015 prompted Florida Congressional Representatives Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Alcee Hastings to ask U.S. Department of Health & Human Services chair Sylvia Mathews Burwell to initiate an independent investigation of the rapidly accumulating allegations against Primate Products Inc. and a string of related companies involved in raising, importing, and experimenting with monkeys in Hendry County.
Recounted Fort Myers News-Press reporter Melissa Montoya, “The investigations into Primate Products, Inc. and The Manheimer Foundation began in March and April 2015 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent documents to Hendry County commissioners, which showed Primate Products performed an average of three tests and/or experiments on monkeys a day in 2014.
These tests and experiments were examined as possible violations of zoning, along with “the possibility the company was operating outside the scope of its agricultural zoning designation by manufacturing primate restraint products,” disclosed Matt Dougherty of WINK television news in Fort Myers.
“Like a farmer milking a cow”
Primate Products’ president Thomas J. “Jeff” Rowell called the procedures done at his facilities “animal usage,” which he likened to a farmer milking cows.
The Hendry County commissioners accepted Rowell’s arguments.
This was no surprise. Said Hendry County information officer Janet Papinaw when the county investigation started, “Hendry County’s authority is only to address the proper land use, zoning, site layout, drainage, buffering, and traffic impacts of such a facility, as well as building construction standards,” Papinaw said.
“Specialty farms and animal husbandry,” Papinaw continued in a prepared statement, “fall under the agriculture land use and zoning district of the property. As such, primate breeding and holding is an allowable use.”
“The investigation on behalf of the Hendry County commissioners is now considered closed,” wrote News-Press reporter Montoya.
But Rowell acknowledged to Montoya that the USDA and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare had in early August 2015 “found the facility needs improvement in its sanitation and pest control. The facility has been given a September deadline to make those improvements,” Montoya summarized.
The zoning issue, however, hinges entirely upon whether what Primate Products and allied enterprises are doing falls within the Hendry County municipal code definition of agriculture:
“Agriculture means the use of land for agricultural purposes, including farming, dairying, pasturage, apiculture (beekeeping), horticulture (plants), floriculture (flowers), silviculture (trees), orchards, groves, viticulture (grapes), animal and poultry husbandry, specialty farms, confined feeding operations and the necessary accessory uses for packing, processing, treating or storing the produce; provided, however, that the operation of any such accessory uses shall be secondary to that of the normal agricultural activities.”
Historically Hendry County was known for growing oranges. The Hendry County municipal code definition of “agriculture,” like most such definitions in older U.S. zoning laws, does not incorporate any recognition that animal agriculture may involve entirely different zoning impacts from those of plant-based agriculture.
There appears to be scant difference, if any, between what Primate Products et al do involving monkeys and what other branches of animal husbandry do involving pigs, chickens, and cattle.
“No argument from me on the animal agriculture issue––none,” PETA senior researcher Alka Chandna told ANIMALS 24-7. “ When we think of castrations without anesthesia, branding, burning off the tip of a young chick’s beak, and the rest––it’s hideous beyond, and just as bad (if not worse) than what Primate Products does. And the implications in terms of environmental considerations and issues related to safety of first responders are the same.
“Our ‘in’ here,” Chandna said, “is that Primate Products is registered with the USDA as a research facility. The Animal Welfare Act defines research facility as follows: ‘The term “research facility” means any school (except elementary or secondary school), institution, organization, or person that uses or intends to use live animals in research, tests, or experiments, and that (1) purchases or transports live animals in commerce, or (2) receives funds under a grant, award, loan, or contract from a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States for the purpose of carrying out research, tests, or experiments …’
“It’s pretty clear,” Chandna concluded, “that the facility’s activities fall outside what county officials would have intended in defining ‘agricultural’ purposes.”
This will apparently now be determined by the courts.
ALDF lawsuit pending
Orlando attorney Justine Thompson Cowan and Christopher A. Berry of the Animal Legal Defense Fund on November 6, 2014 sued Hendry County on behalf of residents William Stephens, Carol Grey, and Keely Cinkota, “seeking judicial relief from Hendry County’s evasion of public scrutiny when it approved” the monkey breeding facility.
“Despite the radical impact” the facility “will have on the neighborhood,” the lawsuit charged, “the county met behind closed doors with special interests in favor of the facility while taking every possible measure to impede public participation.”
This, the ALDF-backed lawsuit contends, violated the Florida Sunshine Law, which requires a “fair and open decision-making process” in such matters as making zoning determinations.