Killing them softly: Those bloody down feather jackets

Killing them softly: Those bloody down feather jackets

Why pluck the feathers of a dead bird when you can take ten times more from an alive one? Live plucking represents agonising torture for ducks and geese whose down is ripped off many times before they are slaughtered or die from injuries. So, are you still down with down? 

Photo by HatM

Photo by HatM

I was in a shop having a look at some new Autumn/Winter clothing when someone asked what was the difference between down and feathers. Apparently the label said that one jacket was 80% down and 20% feathers. Isn’t it all the same thing?

A quick online research provided some enlightenment. As one would expect, both are feathers, but down are the smaller and softer feathers that you find closest to the bird’s body, beneath the outer ones, which are thicker (a baby duck only has down feathers). Whilst the outside feathers work like a protective shell, the down provide warmth. More importantly, down feathers don’t have quills, hence, they’re the ones used by manufacturers for making duvets, pillows, sleeping bags and a lot of the jackets you’ll find in stores during this time of the year.

As interesting as this may be, this was not my biggest discovery. The most important thing I learned during my research was that a lot of factories will pluck the down feathers off the chest of the animal, usually a duck or a goose, whilst he is still alive and without using anything that will soften their pain. The skin usually rips during the process and is sewn up with a straight needle before the next plucking. The process is repeated every six to seven weeks before the bird's slaughter but, of course, a lot of animals die from the injuries.

Live-plucking is illegal in most parts of Europe and the USA, however, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an international and influent animal’s rights organisation, it’s still common practice in two European countries, Hungary and Poland. However, according to PETA, “eighty per cent of the world’s down and feathers come from China”. The organisation sent representatives to visit farms across China and their observers witnessed “workers rip geese’s feathers out – leaving open, bloody wounds – while the birds were fully conscious”. A gripping description that leaves little to imagination as it is accompanied by several haunting videos and photographs that you can see here.

PETA's campaign starring Kalel 

PETA's campaign starring Kalel 

People regularly protest against the use of fur and leather in fashion, how is it possible that so little is said about this issue? Especially when it is so widespread and commonly used? Consumers need to ask more questions - and brands need to do it too. In 2009, a Swedish news program did a two-part expose of the down harvesting industry claiming that 50 to 80 per cent of the world’s down market comes from live-plucked birds. Following the airing of the show, IKEA independently verified the figures, considered them accurate and cancelled an order of down filled furniture from China.

So how to be certain that the soft feathers warming you this winter are cruelty-free? Just to make this 100% clear, no down feathers are obtained in a nice manner. There aren’t geese and ducks that come and donate their down feathers to manufacturers. As a consumer, your choice is between farmers that take the feathers off dead ducks and geese as a side-product of the meat industry (after they have been slaughtered) and others that are literally plucking birds to death, causing them a lot of pain and suffering before them actually kill them.

PETA’s website offers an updated list of The Major UK Brands That Are Ditching Down but even if you are not willing to give up on down jackets, duvets and pillows that does not mean that you have to accept torturing animals. The customer may not be always right, but he does the chance to be heard – and major brands listen. So, please, ask them questions about how their supplier of down and be suspicious of products that are made in China, Hungary or Poland.

Were you aware of live-plucking? Are you considering not buying down products? Do you think this is not an issue? Please share you thoughts on the comment section below.

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