No ‘monkey business’ discussed at newspaper’s economic forum

FORT MYERS, Fla.- Elected officials and Southwest Florida business leaders chose not to discuss one of the region’s booming industries Monday morning: monkey farms.

Neighbors and protesters from Hendry County descended on the Harborside Convention Center with hopes of getting some answers to their questions about the expanding industry in Hendry County.

Local leaders discussed several topics of economic importance to the region but left out the monkey-farming industry rooted in Hendry County, which is currently home to thousands of macaque monkeys bred for laboratory testing.

Hendry County’s Economic Development Committee was responsible for bringing the industry to the county more than 10 years ago with its first monkey farm, Primate Products.  Since that time, two more monkey farms have popped-up in the county.

“We want answers,” said monkey-farm protester Dr. Madeleine Doran. “Where is the transparency?”

WINK News attempted to speak with Hendry County EDC president Gregg Gillman but he refused.  Gillman visited Primera Laboratories near Chicago during solicitations of the company’s business in Hendry County.  Gillman could not say how much money monkey farms have given the EDC in the form of “donations” since their instillation in the county more than 10 years ago.

WINK News filed an open-records request with Hendry County requesting EDC funding records for the past several years, including the sources of the funding.

Hendry County spokeswoman Electa Waddell said the county could not provide the sources of the funding because it does not keep those records; the sources of hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in “donations” would have to come directly from the EDC, even though the committee is a publicly-funded, grant-supported entity, which works alongside and on behalf of Hendry County.

Monkey farms Primate Products and Haman Ranch are currently under investigation by Hendry County code enforcement officers for potential code violations for performing monkey tests and experiments on their properties.

United States Department of Agriculture records reveal hundreds of tests and experiments were performed on the monkeys at these facilities since they started operating in Hendry County.

Hendry County is currently the defendant in a class-action lawsuit brought forth by residents who claim their rights were violated when county officials violated open-meetings laws and allowed for a third monkey breeder to secretly set-up shop in the county without the knowledge of the public.