ARE YOU sleeping with or wearing cruelty? Strange question one may ask. The down feather trade is just that, a cruel and nauseating barbaric trade that involves the plucking of fine under feathers leaving birds bleeding in agony, convulsing in pain and walking like zombies after their feathers have been forcefully plucked from their delicate bodies. Them feathers and down are then used in the “down and feather trade” a trade that many people still know little about, purchasing many goods such as pillows, quilts and clothing that have cruelty embedded within them.
Brief History of trade and cruelty;
Down feathers were used by indigenous North Americans for religious ceremonies and as powerful symbols. In the stories of some cultures, the down feathers of an eagle were important gifts given by the bird to the story’s hero. In the Ghost Dance, a religious movement that became particularly widespread among the Plains Indians, each dancer held a painted feather that was tipped with a down feather painted with another color; the feathers were generally those of a crow, which was sacred to the Ghost Dance, or of an eagle, which was sacred to all tribes. Zuni prayer sticks were also made using eagle down. While eagle feathers belonged to the Sun Priest, who planted them to the sun, other priests could use them if rain was needed, as the down is said to suggest “fleecy clouds that gather on the horizon before rain”. The Hopi rubbed eagle down feathers over rattlesnakes being collected for their Snake Dances, in an effort to soothe and calm the reptiles.
For centuries, humans across the globe have used down feathers for insulation. Russian documents from the 1600s list “bird down” among the goods sold to Dutch merchants, and communities in northern Norway began protecting the nests of eider ducks as early as 1890. Eiders are still “farmed” by people in Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia. The birds are provided with nest sites and protected from predators, and down is collected intermittently during the nesting season without harming the nests or female ducks. The first collection is made roughly halfway through the incubation period, when some 0.75 oz (21 g) of high quality down is removed per nest. When the eggs have hatched and the young have left the area, the remaining down and breast feathers are gathered, typically resulting in another 0.75 oz (21 g) of lower quality feathers per nest. In general, 50–60 nests will produce about one kilo (2.2 pounds) of down feathers.
This means that only a few thousand pounds of eider down is collected from wild nests each year. In Iceland and Scandinavia, colonies of more than 5,000 birds sometimes develop in “farmed” areas, while in some protected areas of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, nest densities exceed 13,000 per hectare (more than 5,260 per acre). On the other hand, the more nomadic indigenous peoples of Arctic Canada did not see down production as a reasonable source of income and tended to overexploit eider nests with “indifferent” collection of down feathers from the nests. Although the down feathers of various species of wildfowl, gulls and other seabirds have historically been used for insulation, most now come from domestic geese. Some 70 percent of the world’s supply comes from China, typically from birds killed for their meat. Most of the rest comes from Europe and Canada, from birds harvested for meat or pâté.
The company above based in Australia sells and produces many feather and down pillows such as the one above. This pillow contains 80% goose down and 20% goose feathers.
So whilst your sleeping snugly and tight in bed comforting baby, child partner or your husband or wife you may also be sleeping with death and cruelty too or even wearing it. That is of course if you have purchased any product that has non-fake feathers in that have been ripped from the bodies of young geese or ducks. Then of course one must remember that the very products that you have purchased mostly manufactured overseas has also seen ducks and geese then slaughtered and fed back into the human food chain as foie gras. Foie gras is a French delicacy that means (fatty liver). Ducks and geese are force feed leaving them in excruciating pain, their tiny delicate bodies then slaughtered to produce such a sickening dish. The bi-product is mostly feathers (down) that is then fed into the clothing/garment/bedding trade.
A percentage of the world’s supply of down feathers has been plucked from live birds, a practice which is condemned as cruel by animal welfare groups. The precise percentage of down harvested in this manner is uncertain; while some references report that it is only a small fraction of the total (less than 1% in 2011), a 2009 Swedish documentary reported that it might be as much as 50–80% of the total supply, a figure supported by IKEA (a home furnishing chain) and an industry representative. The documentary also shows birds lying on the floor with large flesh wounds from the plucking, after which the wounds were stitched using a needle and thread without anesthetic. Although live-plucking is illegal in the United States and Europe, it is known to occur in two European countries (Poland and Hungary) and in China. Public sentiment against the practice has, in some countries, been strong enough that large retailers such as IKEA and Patagonia (a clothing manufacturer) have been forced to alter product lines to eliminate the use (or possible use) of live-plucked down.
The video below demonstrates one of many “plucker’s” that have been designed to pluck ducks and geese in a short space of time. This contraption is one of many used in the industry that come in all shapes, sizes and designs. The following video may be graphic for some viewers. Most agricultural machines will have a bag fitted to the bottom of the machine thus collecting the feathers then sending them on for down and feather trade. Most downing is actually removed violently by hand. This machine is only used when birds are dead.
What is Down?
Firstly down trade is nothing but (cruelty) that is down to a tea. The trade is more complex though, Down is the “undercoating” of geese, swan or waterfowl that consists of light fluffy filaments growing from a central quill point. From this central quill point pain can be felt that when plucking commences. The pain is that intense it can leave the birds convulsing uncontrollably to the point that they die. Grab a handful of your hair then yank it out. Hurts doesn’t it, now you understand the same pain inflicted to these solitary and friendly birds. Down is harvested and used because it creates a three dimensional structure which traps air and gives down insulating ability.” – Guide to the Labelling of Down and Feathers Enforcement Guidelines, March 2000.
One out of many companies that we investigated was Allied Feather & Down a very well known company that trades locally and internationally. Allied Feather & Down is based in the United States and has pushed its products all over the European Union, United Kingdom, Asia and Australia regardless of the horrifying abuse inflicted to these birds. One would think that even when the company states these bi-products they use “are from poultry the food chain” that the United Kingdom for instance would ban such torture clothing and garments baring in mind that they have come from the “foie gras” trade that is banned in the UK. Lack of awareness though is the key issue here and whilst down continues to be harvested from ducks, swans and waterfowl the abuse and horrifying pain will continue. Birds will suffer and more and more people will buy in to the trade of which if one thinks about it increases other trades such as (foie gras). More demand from customers means more demand from foie gras farmers and the circle of abuse, pain and suffering continues.
Allied Feather and Down Ltd stated the following on their website;
Warmer than synthetics: Down provides more insulation per ounce than any other material, making it the optimal insulator. Every ounce of quality down has about two million fluffy filaments that interlock and overlap to form a protective layer of non-conducting still air that keeps warmth in and cold out. Down has the ability to mould itself to the body while synthetics remain rigid. Down also breathes and wicks away perspiration, so the user doesn’t experience the clamminess associated with synthetics.
Body feathers (from ducks, geese and other birds kept for meat or eggs) are also used to stuff pillows, cushions, bedding/clothing and other such items. As ducks and geese are the primary animals used for the production of down. To produce your average comforter 75-80 birds are used. Feathers plucked violently pain is of the norm.
Picture above depicts live bird plucking of geese. These birds would suffer immense pain often convulsing in agony or dying from induced shock and massive tissue trauma / haemorrhaging.
Allied Feather and Down Ltd then go on to state;
100% recyclable and natural: Unlike synthetic fill that relies on natural resources to be produced, Allied down is a sustainable, renewable and all-natural product. Allied buys only from suppliers that grow geese and ducks for the food industry. Down is only a by-product, something left over from the birds after they have been sold for their meat.
A typical Company misleading statement there “something left over from the birds after they have been sold for their meat” so lets take a look at that “something left over from the birds after they have been sold for meat”.
Allied Feather and Down Ltd can you please explain to your customers this “something left over” comment? Better still we’ll explain to them below. Please note the video herein is extremely graphic.
We have challenged Allied Feather and Down Ltd on why they have placed on their website such a misleading statement. Trade in down is colossal so for a professional company to state these feathers “something left over” is a highly incorrect. Birds feathers can fall out we know, but this company is stating in not so many words that this is how the feathers are more or less collected. There are three stages of collection of which is highlighted below for your immediate information.
Three stages of down harvesting;
- Post mortem (plucked after death)
- Live plucking (plucked when birds are alive sometimes up to 17 times in their short lifetime
- Gathering (gathering the feathers from moulting ducks, geese, swans and waterfowl)
Plucked after death;
For this method, feathers are removed from the birds’ bodies after they are killed for their flesh and/or internal organs (foie gras). The process usually involves scalding the birds’ bodies in hot water for one to three minutes so the feathers are easier to pull out. The body feathers can then be plucked (often by hand), after which the down is removed by hand or machine.
Live plucking is exactly what it sounds like: a goose or duck is held down by their neck or wings as the “targeted feathers” are torn from their skin. When the skin rips during this process it is sewn up with a straight needle (no analgesic or sterilization used) and the bird is left to recover before the next “harvest of feathers.” This process is repeated every 6-7 weeks before the bird’s eventual slaughter (or death from the trauma of the plucking process itself). In videos* I watched of the live plucking process, the ducks and geese struggled against their captors, honking and squawking throughout the plucking. After their chest was stripped of feathers, the birds were simply tossed to the floor where they struggled to stumble away, some with freshly sewn skin. *Plucked Alive: the Torture Behind Down and Goose Down Practices Called Animal Cruelty – CBS5 (There are a number of other videos out there as well.)
“Gathering feathers from live geese [or ducks] is defined as removing feathers that are ripe due to the phenomenon of molting and would refer to using a brushing or combing action to remove feathers or down which are ready to fall out.”
Scientific Opinion on the practice of harvesting (collecting) feathers from live geese for down production.
EFSA Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW). European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy
While the term “gathering” sounds nicer, in most operations hundreds of birds have their feathers “collected” at one time. Even if all of the birds are at the same stage of moulting (which is unlikely) feathers mature at different times on different parts of the body, so some feathers are likely to be “live plucked” by “accident” during this process as well. The methods of catching, carrying and restraining birds is also the same no matter whether the feathers are gathered or live plucked. In the EFSA study mentioned above they admitted that during the gathering process bones may be broken or dislocated and, more uncommonly, some birds suffocate. These of course are added to by the potential for torn skin, hanging wings (posture change) and death during “live plucking.”
Allied Feather and Down Ltd are no sweet chicks with regards to this horrifying trade. Whether they gather or imply the feathers are just collected from the ground is quite misleading and the public have every-right to know exactly what they are buying into. If it says down on the label, sustainable down or collected down from gathering – its not what the manufacturer makes the product out to be. Down is cruelty no mater how you sugar coat the label with sustainability down is down abuse is abuse death is death.
Scientific research from the European Union on harvesting down and feathers;
Whilst the EFSA has adamantly stated that gathering feathers would be the the best non-cruel way of harvesting down, European Food Safety Authority has slammed the down industry and being 100% cruel regardless of whether the feathers are plucked, gathered or removed from dead birds. Their statement abstract can be read below for your information (2010). However the EFSA still categorically state that this “method” of harvesting via (collecting) of feathers is the best option. We all know that trade is vast within the down industry so gathering is not really a common practice. If plucking and removal of feathers from dead birds was banned the harvesting of moulted feathers would not be enough to keep up with demand. So therefore our own findings conclude that trade in down no matter how its dressed up should therefore be banned.
The Scientific Opinion on the practice of collecting feathers from live geese for down production concluded that removing feathers from live geese can be carried without causing pain, suffering or injury to the birds, if feathers are gathered. Gathering feathers from live geese is defined as removing feathers that are ripe due to the phenomenon of moulting and would never result in tissue damage. Plucking is the forcible removal of feathers that results in bleeding follicles and possibly other skin damage such as tears and bruising. The possibility that feathers are plucked cannot be excluded and it seems that at least minor suffering from pain and injuries is unavoidable under current commercial conditions. The process of catching, carrying and restraining the bird is the same whether feathers are gathered or plucked. Incorrect handling can include carrying the bird by the neck, legs or by one wing, restraining by sitting on the neck of the bird and throwing or dropping the bird. Bloody feathers, skin injuries, posture changes (e.g. hanging wings), dead birds and broken or dislocated bones are welfare-outcome indicators which could be used to assess the welfare of geese submitted to feather collection. It is recommended that only ripe feathers should be removed from live geese. A control system should be in place to ensure this is carried out in practice. The presence of skin tears and blood or tissue and the presence of non-ripe feathers in the collected feather material should be used to distinguish between plucking and gathering. Operators should be aware of good animal handling methods and the differentiation between ripe and unripe feathers. Further studies should be encouraged to improve the validity and reliability of welfare-outcome indicators. The method to evaluate the maturity of the feathers should be validated and further developed.
© European Food Safety Authority, 2010
- Whether feathers are collected or not. Acute and chronic stress and fear are relevant aspects of poor welfare when combining magnitude and likelihood, whether feathers were collected or not and especially if there are repeated collections. Skin injuries and inappropriate feather removal only become relevant in terms of likelihood and magnitude when feathers are collected compared with when birds are only handled.
European Food Safety Authority conclude;
The main recommendation is that only ripe feathers should be removed from live geese. A control system should be in place to ensure this is carried out in practice or, alternatively, feathers should be removed by the person using a brushing or combing procedure so that only ripe feathers can be gathered. Grasping of feathers should be avoided. Additionally, as welfare-outcome indicators, the presence of skin tears and blood or tissue on the feathers, and the presence of non-ripe feathers in the collected feather material should be used to distinguish between plucking and gathering. Suffering should be avoided or minimised when catching and handling the geese, and geese should never be carried by the neck, legs or by one wing, be thrown or dropped, or be restrained by sitting on the neck or body of the bird. Operators should be aware of good animal handling methods and the differentiation between ripe and unripe feathers.
The Humane lie;
Allied Down and Feather Chief Executive Officer Steve Uretsky, President of the approved company states;
Allied Feather & Down is committed to ethical business practices in everything we do. We are transparent in the way we conduct our business and work with our partners to implement safe, clean, humane supply chain solutions.
To demonstrate that commitment, we have instituted the Allied Pledge, a comprehensive program of audits and certifications now applied to every aspect of our business, from the sourcing of our feathers and down to testing, manufacturing and delivery of our finished product, to ensure that our suppliers, partners and manufacturing processes meet a high standard of performance in everything we do.
The Allied Pledge is based on five components:
1. Third Party Testing
2. Supplier Audits and Certifications
4. Environmental Standards
5. Industry Leadership
International Animal Rescue Foundation France investigated many down and feather traders from 2012-2013 of which the majority of them all stated on their sites or via garment labels that down and feathers were collected humanely. As one can see in the video above there is no way of collecting humanely. Furthermore with trade being so large in feather and down products the (gathering) of feathers would not under any circumstances be suffice to support such astronomical trades within Asia, UK, Europa, South and North America and Africa. For Allied Down and Feather to even imply that their business which is large and spread out merely collected produces garments from “collected feathers” via the ground is not only misleading its also verging the violating many trade descriptions acts in numerous European countries one of which the United Kingdom takes seriously. LASTLY there is no humane way or method of collecting feathers. Allied Down and Feather states they only purchase from farms that rear birds for the food chain. (The food chain being that mostly of the foie gras industry). There is nothing humane about the cruel and completely senseless foie gras trade. birds are reared in vile conditions, are force feed then have their throats slit. Their livers are removed and sold on, and all “bi-products” are then sent to other manufacturers of them Allied Down and Feather is one.
If you think for one moment that any American or European down and feather traders are being tarnished here and blamed think again as South Africa is host to “one of the largest” down and feather traders which Woolworths buy into. See link here This one product here that Woolworths ZA sells mass quantities of and and cheap prices contains 78% duck feathers and 22$ duck down. That duck down is ripped from the still living and breathing bodies of ducks.
Trade lies and propaganda;
Many other South African companies such as Boardmans, The Goose Company and Sleep Co are just a handful of traders that all support the brutal trade of down and feather harvesting. The Goose Company a well known family business that was started firstly by a clock company was challenged by one of its customers back in April 2014. The customer who’s name were only stating is Rhona and is not related to our organisation or this article asked;
Please tell me how your down feathers are being collected? I’ve seen videos of geese being tortured, screaming while their feathers are ripped out of their bodies, blood oozing out of their skins!! I always wanted a down duvet, not any-more, poor animals
The Goose Company South Africa replied;
Hello Rhona, Goose Down is a by product of “meat production”. This means that a goose is slaughtered first for its meat and then plucked. The bird therefore doesn’t feel the plucking. We are aware of these videos and condemn any torturous conduct.
Now, lets go back over that reply and hereto we have picked a small snip of that reply out;
“We are aware of these videos and condemn any torturous conduct”…
What the Goose Company should have correctly informed Rhona of was that all geese and ducks in the barbaric and torturous (foie gras) trade as seen in the video below are reared cruelly on farms, are force feed, then are slaughtered. From there their feathers and down is then harvested. Yet the Goose Company venomously “condemn any torturous conduct” that see’s animals suffer in vile pain. A search of the Goose Companies supplier showed that feathers and down are sent on from a goose and duck farm in Johannesburg. Coincidently one such farm that has been selling the foie gras to many traders as listed in our foie gras article two months ago.
It is considered humane and non-cruel if the geese or ducks are plucked when dead. Many traders will inform their customers of this of which take it and leave it. Many customers fail to actually investigate the full process of just where their down or feather product truly originated from. By insinuating the birds never felt any form of cruelty or harm is misleading and tantamount to breach of many trade description laws. Geese and ducks as explained are reared for the food chain and sadly many down suppliers are indeed foie gras traders with the rest combining slaughter house suppliers. Just because ducks and geese have not been harmed “when dead” doesn’t mean for one moment that they didn’t live a life of brutality before its death.
Hundreds of thousands of tons of down and feathers are produced by many outside organisations all of which confuse many people with statements such as “our down and feathers are obtained from farms that do not pluck from live birds”. International Animal Rescue Foundation France have also noticed many Animal Rights groups also supporting this statement of which the majority of them fail to actually delve deep into the trade. As explained unless all down and feather traders, slaughter houses, hatcheries and farms are monitored then taking this statement on board and believing it is more or less turning ones head and ignoring the issue. One South African organisation has on its website statements from clothing suppliers that quote “we ensure that down and feathers are gathered therefore our garments are cruelty free” or no down and feathers are used which come from animals that are live-plucked or force-fed during their life. We source down and feather exclusively from down and feather suppliers who work with „machine pluck“ or „hand pluck”. So what about factory farming? living conditions of birds? how the birds are kept to welfare and standards in the farming industry. Is this simply to be ignored? Just because the label says cruelty free 9/10 its a commercial misleading non-sustainable lie. If its to good to be true most likely it is. Please do not purchase any “product” that contains any animal bi-product. If your an Animal Rights Organisation or group and state you support vegan rights then laying bare on your sites or within your mission statements any of the above statements then your not only hypocritical and misleading many people – your also supporting barbaric methods of farming and sales of animal bi-products. Simple solution – Go vegan, Wear Vegan, BE VEGAN END OFF!
Thank you for reading
Chief Executive Officer
Environmentalist and Botanist
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July 24, 2014 | Categories: You must be the change you want to see in the world | Tags: Allied Feather, European countries, European Food Safety Authority, European Union, foie gras, Novaya Zemlya | Leave a comment