The Terrible Truth About Down

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The majority of the world’s duck and goose down comes from live-plucked birds in China, Poland and Hungary. Roughly 80 percent of the down market comes directly from China. If you’re thinking about purchasing a down-filled product, you may want to think again after learning about the severe pain and suffering that live-plucking causes birds. The best way to end live-plucking of ducks and geese is by purchasing down-alternative, synthetic insulated products instead. By choosing to vote for cruelty-free products with your pocketbook, you will be voting to end the live-plucking of ducks and geese.

Live-plucking ducks & geese, fully conscious

A large portion of the down that fills comforters, parkas, jackets, pillows and sleeping bags is sourced by painfully ripping out the thickest and deepest plumage located underneath the feathers of live, fully conscious ducks and geese. This is done every six to eight weeks while forcibly pinning them down upside down.

Live-plucked geese. Photo courtesy of Animals Australia.

That down coat or comforter perpetuates incredible pain, terror and abuse of innocent animals. This rapid and forcible feather removal is not only extremely painful for the birds, but causes severe tissue injury and damage. The plucking terrorizes them and can result in stress-induced broken limbs and torn ligaments. Birds cannot breathe when pressure is applied to their chest, so in addition to the severe pain that is caused, they experience being smothered and suffocated. To restrain the birds, workers may tie up their legs, often step on their delicate wings, and even put them in choke-holds while ripping out their feathers.

This cruel procedure is done up to six times a year, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) estimates it amounts to 250,000 live-pluckings per year. Farms often leave injured and sick ducks and geese to die a slow death, as they are considered “waste.” Veterinarians and breeders call live-plucking extremely and deeply cruel. Since workers, called “live-rippers” are paid by the weight, they work as fast as they can, regardless of the injuries, pain and suffering they cause each bird.

Duck and Goose Down
Live-plucked birds for down. Photo courtesy of Animals Australia.

Geese develop their first full coat of down and feathers at roughly two months of age, then molt each year. Their natural lifespan can be up to 20 years, but farmed geese and ducks are killed at only two to three years old. Geese who are raised to produce down are live-plucked at ten weeks of age, then subsequently every two months before they are slaughtered. After being live-plucked for one to two years, they are often painfully force-fed grain with a large tube forced down their throats for foie gras production for another year, before they are finally slaughtered.

Be careful of companies like Eddie Bauer, Lands’ End and Hollander Sleep, who claim their down is “responsible” and not live-plucked. During 2017 investigations conducted on several farms, shocking cruelty to the birds was revealed, including that their suppliers do indeed live-pluck birds for down, despite their claims otherwise.

Lack of animal welfare regulations  

Approximately 60-90 percent of the world’s down comes from live-plucked birds, as reported by the Kalla Fakta Report and verified by IKEA, who conducted their own independent research study. The practice of live-plucking is illegal in the United States, but the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) reports that live-plucking still happens in the top three down-producing countries of Poland, Hungary and China, and is also done in France, where the geese and ducks are also force-fed for foie gras.

Cruelty-free down alternatives

Live-plucking a goose. Photo courtesy of Animals Australia.

There are many warm, soft and cruelty-free alternatives to duck and goose down. Cruelty-free synthetic alternatives are also easy maintenance, machine washable, hypoallergenic, longer lasting and comfortable during all seasons. Down alternatives offer stable and even fill that doesn’t shift like down will, and are more affordable and lighter weight than down.

Most down alternatives are made from man-made materials, though some can come from natural fibers. You want to look for synthetic insulation like PrimaLoft®, Polarguard, Thinsulate™, Thermore, MicroMax, Polyfill, MicroCloud and Tencel, or look for the words polyester, microfiber, or synthetic insulation. But you can also consider natural fill fibers such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, modal, and Ingeo (corn fiber). We don’t advise using wool because it’s not cruelty-free. Some people feel they can avoid animal welfare issues by buying “pre-loved” or second-hand down.

Ethically-sourced down or “humane down”

There are a few companies today that avoid live-plucking ducks and geese, and instead source more humanely from suppliers that hand collect down from the nests of molting geese, or the Eider sea duck. It’s called “ethically-sourced down” and it is cruelty-free but it comes at a much higher price. Though it must be certified, it may indeed still come from a supplier who is not honest about the source of the down.

This video from PETA explores deception in the down industry.

Despite international certifications, including the “Non Live-Plucked Products Guarantee” and the “Responsible Down Standard (RDS),” which assure consumers that down and feathers do not come from live-plucked birds, they often indeed do. RDS claims to “safeguard the welfare of geese,” but has actually admitted that they allow RDS certified companies to buy and sell live-plucked feathers. When investigators visited farms in China, where 80 percent of all down comes from, suppliers admitted to buying and selling live-plucked down and misleading consumers. So this label can be fraudulent. Retail stores admit that their suppliers will often lie to them about the feathers’ origin and keep the fact that the down comes from live-pluck birds a secret, making honest investigations back to the source very difficult.

What You Can Do to Help

Choose only cruelty-free alternatives to down. Look for products that don’t use down from birds.

Tell retailers to ditch down. Please sign the petition from PETA to Eddie Bauer, Lands’ End, and Hollander Sleep Products to stop carrying products that contain down.

Share this page on social media. Please share this information with everyone you know to inform them about the cruelty of down products, and the synthetic cruelty-free alternatives that are superior and readily available.


Featured image: ducks, in this case raised for meat in Australia. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Liberation NSW.

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Humane Decisions is devoted to ending the suffering, domination, exploitation, abuse, enslavement and use of animals worldwide for reasons of food, pleasure, convenience, entertainment and all other unnecessary reasons, by providing resources and information to shift both individual and collective consciousness to one that recognizes animal sentience and inclusion in our moral community. Click to see author's profile.

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