Down Feather: Is It Worth A Life?

December 15, 2021Lu Shegay


A good night sleep is sometimes accompanied by the horrific industry hidden behind the fancy pillows and comforters. Most retailers are producing those home items that were naturally collected from the birds who tend to lose their feather, however, there are still those practicing the method of live plucking, of which the word can tell one itself.

The down feather industry exploits birds for their feathers to be used in clothing and comforters. Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to birds’ skin, primarily in the chest region. Although most feathers are removed from birds during slaughter, there are those who are part of breeding flocks raised for consumption purposes, and their feathers are plucked repeatedly while birds are still alive.

"Male mallard duck on green grass" by Julia Filirovska from Pexels


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.

Process and Methods

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.

"Flock of geese on farm" by Samar Layek from Pexels

Is it worth a life?

Naturally, ducks and geese are considered highly sociable animals that prefer to live in large groups, where a group of geese is called a gaggle, and a group of ducks is called a paddling. Geese mate for life and mourn for lengthy periods when their partners die, while ducks are meticulously clean animals who keep their nests free of debris. Both ducks and geese have high navigational abilities and long memories, which stand them in good stead during their yearly migrations. Ducks and geese are also great parents; to keep her eggs safe and warm, a mother duck fills her nest with some of her own feathers and lead their ducklings more than a half-mile away from the nest to find a safe place to swim and eat.

The entire issue with protecting these animals from the terrifying industry of clothing, food, and accessories is that birds are, for some reason, excluded from the legal protection under the Animal Welfare Act in many countries. This is a similar issue to the category of aquatic animals, where huge aquatic mammals are given at least some legal protection, but fish are not, although it has been proven that fish are capable of experiencing basic emotions. This, undoubtedly, is linked and leads to another issue in the animal protection movement, which is speciesism. There is an urgent need to spread the word that birds and any other living beings deserved to be recognized under the law, regardless of their size.

Read our blog: Speciesism in Animal Law.

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