Hendry County didn’t break Sunshine Law in monkey farm suit, Florida appeals court rules

A group of cynomolgus macaques await treats from their handlers at Primate Products in Hendry County. Photo: Andrew West, The News-Press

The News-Press by Amy Bennett Williams

October 11, 2017

A Florida appeals court has quashed a lawsuit against Hendry County over two of its monkey farms once and for all.

The initial 2014 suit charged that Hendry County had illegally approved a 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.

Neighbors of one of the farms originally brought suit against the county, alleging that because it never held hearings or told them about a primate facility being built in their neighborhood, the county violated Florida’s Sunshine Law.

Hendry County argued that approving the farm was no different from approving a cattle ranch — a routine matter that fell to county staff — and it had no obligation to hold a public hearing or issue a public notice on the plan.

County reviewers approved the plans, determining that monkey breeding falls under the definition of “animal husbandry,” which is allowed in the agriculture zoning district without a public hearing.

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.

The county maintained that as long as land is zoned for agriculture, any species could be allowed.

. . .

Independent journalist and animal rights activist Jane Velez-Mitchell calls it a sad day for Florida taxpayers and property owners “who are left to wonder: How many monkeys are being housed near me and why wasn’t I told that Hendry County was being turned into a laboratory monkey breeding capital?” she wrote in an email. “I challenge anyone to find out how many monkeys are living in open air cages in Hendry County. Hendry officials have indicated this is none of their business. Really? Could it be a thousand monkeys or ten thousand… or more?” [READ MORE]

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