There’s been a lot of talk about the cruelty of foie gras, but what about down? The same geese are having their feathers plucked alive, leaving them red with gaping wounds.
Down, also known as “down feather”, is used as a thermal insulator and padding in jackets, mattresses, pillows, and more. It comes from the plumage of the chest region of geese and ducks. The “best” feathers are the soft layer closest to a bird’s skin – which means plucking them is extremely distressing for the geese, and causes terrible wounds.
The cruelty behind down feathers is the same as that around foie gras. The same geese or ducks are being tortured for their feathers, just like the animals behind leather feeding the meat industry (pun intended) too. But just because these animals are being cruelly treated for two reasons doesn’t make it okay, it just makes it more profitable.
The Cruelty Behind Down
Down feathers are often plucked from live geese. Live footage has shown that as these are pulled aggressively from the geese, bloody wounds are left as the animals shriek in terror. Often, so that the geese don’t move, they are squeezed upside down between the worker’s knees, or some have even been photographed sitting on the goose’s neck.
Clearly, plucking their down feathers whilst the animal is still alive causes the animals great pain and distress. The feathers are essentially pulled out of their skins by force, leaving bleeding follicles and possible skin damage like tears and bruises. When non-ripe feathers are removed, which is often the case in large commercial feather gathering with flocks of thousands of birds, they will often have tissue and blood attached to them.
After the procedures, and when they do, workers often sew the birds’ skin back together without using any anesthetics.
That’s a pretty horrific picture we’ve just painted there. It’s very much real.
A by-product of the meat industry?
The plucking of down feathers has been argued to be a by-product of the meat and foie gras industry. However, just like culthread showed and argued with leather, down being a hugely profitable business in itself encourages the cruelty of these industries. Just because treating the animals cruelly has two purposes doesn’t make it acceptable.
The European Union forbids improper live-plucking, allowing only the "harvesting of feathers and down from the live animal at the moment of molting" if carried out in accordance with certain rules. That demonstrates just how terrible the animal cruelty of the industry is.
However, not only is it extremely difficult to know if your down has come from live plucking or not, but also 80% of down feathers come from China. In Peta’s investigation, nearly half of Chinese suppliers admitted to selling live-plucked down wholesale. Add those who perhaps didn’t admit it, that likely sums up to half the global down producers (only accounting for the China investigation).
So, what can we do about it?
Down solutions and alternatives
Just like King Charles banned foie gras in the royal residences last November, we can stop owning down feathers.
Fibre down insulation uses PET to reproduce down-like alternatives. Sometimes, these can even be considered better than down: the feathers are all the same, leading to the warmth being equally distributed throughout the product.
Taking ethics one step further, we can use recycled PET bottles to produce this fibre down insulation. That’s what we do at culthread, and it means that for every product using recycled fibre down insulation, we’re reducing the amount of plastic bottles going to landfill (by around 10 bottles per jacket).
A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. By using recycled fibre down insulation, we are then not only stopping the terrible animal cruelty of the down industry, but also contributing to greater recycling, in order to save our oceans and natural ecosystems.