As the fall and winter seasons are coming upon us, so is the demand for warm winter jackets, bedding and other heat preserving items. While we know fur garments can be the cause of much animal cruelty, not a lot of thought is given to how goose and duck down - in everything from clothing to comforters, pillows and upholstered furniture - is being harvested.
Down, the soft layer of feathers closest to a bird’s body, is sourced in two main ways, either as a by-product of birds who are killed for their meat or by live-plucking. The latter method is extremely painful to birds, but is still practiced in the world’s largest down producing countries: Hungary, Poland and China. Birds may be plucked up to four times during their lives. After that, they are slaughtered or suffer still further in foie gras production. It takes about 75 birds to provide enough down to fill one comforter.
The live-plucking business has long been successfully concealed from the general public. Many European citizens were first introduced to the industry by watching the much publicized television program "Kalla Fakta," a two-part Swedish investigative documentary1 that was broadcast in February of this year (2009). It captured the disturbing practice at a Hungarian goose farm. The tape shows birds on their backs screaming and struggling to free themselves from their tormentors as their down is ripped from their bodies at rapid speed. Afterwards, several birds are left paralyzed on the ground with large flesh wounds. The birds with big gaping wounds are then sown back together with needle and thread on site by the workers themselves and without any anesthetic.
The documentary estimates that as much as 50-80 percent of all down on the world market is plucked from live birds. The European Down and Feather Association and the China Feather and Down Industrial Association refute this fact. They argue that the percentage is much smaller and that the live-plucked down is more expensive and mainly exported to Japan where it is especially sought after.2 However, IKEA, a large Swedish corporation, conducted its own investigation after the documentary aired and verified the high numbers.3
Consumer reactions in Europe have been strong. European companies trading with down products have vowed to review their existing policies and the Commission of the European Union (E.U.) is examining the present regulations - live-plucking is already illegal in the E.U. but there are no sanctions to enforce the law.
Although live-plucking is not an industry practice here, the U.S. imports down from the major down producing countries.4 The following companies are selling down products obtained by live-plucking: www.hungariangoosedown.com; www.dewoolfsondown.com; www.laytners.com; www.downandfeathercompany.com; www.comfortersgoosedown.com and www.absolutecomfortonsale.com. Surprisingly, many companies actually highlight the fact that the feathers used in their products are obtained from birds who are not killed, suggesting that live-plucking is a preferred alternative. This distorted statement ignores the torture inflicted on the fully conscious live birds. Other companies are less forthcoming regarding the source of their down or they may not even know where the down originates because products have been moved through a number of middlemen.
Given the difficulties in accurately identifying the true origin of down, we suggest you avoid purchasing these products. There are synthetic alternative materials to down, including, but not limited to Thinsulate, Primaloft, Thermolite, and Polarguard. The benefits of these alternative synthetic materials are that they are water resistant, machine washable, easy to care for, completely hyperallergenic and are typically less expensive. In addition, they will provide insulation when wet and dry quickly after coming into contact with water. Most importantly however, they are cruelty-free.
1Kalla Fakta (02-01-09 and 02-08-09), TV4:
Part 1: http://anytime.tv4.se/webtv/?progId=729261&treeId=90227&renderingdepartment=2.757
Part 2: http://anytime.tv4.se/webtv/?progId=730985&treeId=90227&renderingdepartment=2.757
2Finding the Truth About "Live-Plucking" & "Harvesting" http://www.idfl.com/articles/IDFLLivePlucking11Feb2009.pdf
3Kalla Fakta (follow-up 05-10-09), TV4:
4United States Department of Agriculture - Foreign Agricultural Service (US trade imports): http://www.fas.usda.gov/ustrade/USTImHS10.asp?QI=