It is certainly hard to imagine how such horrific practices still occur at the present time, but the undercover investigation exposed by PETA, sadly, confirms this. The investigation, namely, the exposed video demonstrates that “geese, their feet restrained or held down by their necks, with farm workers pulling their feathers and undercoating off their skin, leaving open and often bloody wounds in the process.” PETA also comments its investigation “offers evidence that retailers including Lands' End, Eddie Bauer and Hollander Home Fashions inadvertently had live-plucked down in their supply chains, despite a certification process involved in the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) that mandates the feathers are ‘non live-plucked.’”
No doubt, plucking causes pain, suffering, and distress to the birds. Generally, they are lifted by their necks or wings, their legs are tied, and feathers are plucked out of their skin. In many cases, feathers are plucked so hard that their skin is torn open, and the wounds are sewn with a needle and thread with no anesthesia. Plucking usually occurs when the birds are only 10 weeks old and repeats in 6 weeks until birds are deemed ready for slaughter.
The largest producer of down remains China, having 80% of global production, followed by Thailand, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, France, the United States, and Canada. According to the assessed data in 2008, the estimated value of the global trade of down feathers was USD 1.88 billion, and it is expected that at the global level, it may reach USD 8.24 billion by 2026.
The process of collecting down feathers is done by removing them from the birds’ chest, lower belly, flanks, and the areas that are not covered by the wings. According to some sources, down feather is collected after birds are slaughtered, however, some sources state that approximately 1-2% is done by “harvesting” during molting or by “live-plucking.”
Harvesting collection is the process of removal of lost feathers by hand from a live duck or a goose during molting. Molting, otherwise known as sloughing, shedding, is the manner in which an animal routinely casts off a part of their body (often, but not always, an outer layer or covering), either at specific times of the year or at specific points in its life cycle. There is also a practice of forced molting where a lot of birds are tortured in the factory farms. Poor handling of the harvesting method leads to the increased fear, stress, and injury caused to a bird. Notably that not all birds are subjected to harvesting due to the influence of the age, breed, genetics of the bird, and so another practice is applied to them, which is live-plucking.
The method of live plucking already narrates what horrific feelings it brings to the animals. It occurs outside the molting season and is done by manually pulling feathers from a live bird. While harvesting compared to live-plucking is a concern for many animal protection activists, the method of live plucking creates bigger issues for the welfare of animals. Live-plucking results in bleeding and tearing of the birds’ skin, causing unnecessary pain, suffering, discomfort, and stress to the animals. Although the method of live-plucking is criticized by the China Feather and Down Industrial Association, the European Down and Feather Association, and other organizations, there were still cases documented in China, Hungary, and Poland. Most horrifically, birds may be plucked several times before being sent to slaughter. Moreover, birds that are kept in such factories lack access to water, have their bills trimmed, experience high stock densities, bad air quality, respiratory problems, and force-feeding. These practices demonstrate how disregarded birds are in terms of being possessors of rights and how even the minimum welfare standards are not taken into consideration.
Read our articles on farmed animals here.