How does the whole picture of down “harvesting“ fit together?
Down and feather industry representatives claim that the majority of down and other feathers on the market are removed from the birds after they are are killed for their flesh or organs and thus the feathers are an inevitable “by-product” of the meat industry. While the meat (duck and geese) industry and the down industry are intrinsically connected*, in February 2009, a Swedish TV documentary** called into question industry claims about the rarity of live plucking. The documentary supposedly discovered that in reality 50-80 percent of the down on the market was coming from live birds. These figures were denied by the China Feather and Down Industrial Association (among others), but IKEA (the Swedish furniture company) independently verified this fact and promptly canceled orders from China (at the time).
Now what does this tell us? It suggests that instead of some birds being live plucked (and then killed) and others having their feathers only plucked after they have been killed (as if that would make it any better!) most birds are probably live plucked many times before they are killed for their flesh or organs and then their down feathers are taken from them again and for the final time after death.
So yes, down and feathers are technically ” by-products” of the meat and egg industry… and the story of their production is just as disturbing as any other animal sourced product.
As we know from the story of leather*** and other animal products like rennet, casein, blood/bone meal and manure, these “by-products” are very profitable (sometimes more profitable than the animals’ flesh or milk) and purchasing them perpetuates the cycle of animal abuse and use that they come from.
However you weigh all three methods of down “harvesting,” any purchase of down or feathers funds the animal exploitation industries that they are a part of and requires the enslavement and eventual deaths of the birds involved.
Warmth is essential to human life. We thrive in warm climates and moderate our homes and clothing in cold climates to insulate and protect us from the elements. While some people may think that using our fellow animals’ evolutionary adaptations (tough skin, warm feathers and fur) for our own benefit is the price of our nomadic wanderings, I happily disagree.
Along with our fellow animals we have also evolved. We have gained the intellect and ability to source, grow and create alternatives to our past animal use that are ethical and cruelty free.
There are plenty of alternatives to down and feathers on the market today and if you don’t find the style of alternative that you’re looking for then help create it! (Bamboo, algae, hemp, coconut or palm fibers – there is a world of potential out there!)
* I recently learned that, because fewer people are eating duck and geese meat out of the fear of “the bird flu“ there is a shortage in the down supply: “China Feather and Down Information“ (CFDIA) [Letter to the Distributors in Down Industry] April 27th 2013..
**This documentary was for the television program “Kalla Fakta“ (meaning “Cold Facts“ in Swedish).
*** Large numbers of cows, mainly from India, are used solely for their skin.
- Guide to Labeling of Down and Feathers, Canada
- ”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
- American Down & Feather Council
- CFDIA China Feather and Down Information [ Letter to the Distributors in Down Industry] April 27th 2013
- European Down & Feather Association
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