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The Sad Story Behind Down & Feather Harvesting


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



Related Stories:

Why Vegans Don’t Use Silk

What’s Wrong With Wool

What’s Wrong With Leather

What is Pain to a Fish?



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Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati

Gentle World is a vegan intentional community and non-profit organization, whose core purpose is to help build a more peaceful society, by educating the public about the reasons for being vegan, the benefits of vegan living, and how to go about making such a transition. For more information about vegan food and other aspects of a vegan lifestyle, visit the Gentle World website and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.


+ add your own
11:13PM PDT on Mar 24, 2015

Thank you for bringing this to everyone's attention. There is a tv ad I saw not long ago advertising these products, showing someone walking behind a duck and gently picking up a feather which naturally fell while the duck walked. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I see any more of these ads I'll be complaining to the company about cruelty and false advertising.

3:44AM PDT on Aug 11, 2014

I will NEVER buy any product that comes from the suffering of an animal, but then I'm a hypocrite because I eat meat and I have read how many of these animals are treated and killed. confused.....I think if I only had to feed myself it would be much easier... But so far - absolutely no fois gras, and now no feather/down.

3:07AM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

Thank you

11:30AM PDT on Jul 14, 2014

Thank you

5:14AM PST on Feb 21, 2014

i found out about this several years ago and stopped buying these pillow. However recently on a South African show (Mooiloop or Pasella), they went to a south african farm where these feathers are harvested and a lady sat down with a goose to show how it's plucked.

and it totally wasn't what i was expecting. the goose displayed no sign of unease, it was more like she was skimming the loose down feathers off. and there weren't geese with exposed patches of skin, etc, because all they want is the softest, smallest feathers for pillows which apparently you find only under the goose.

if i wasn't allergic to birds (a whole other story) i would buy these again (but only the ones made in south africa) because i saw that the animal was not harmedor distressed.

12:38AM PST on Jan 18, 2014

Thanks for the article.

7:43AM PDT on Sep 23, 2013

I ban anything that is animal by-product. This is the dark and selfish side of humans, such a shame!!!!!111

6:41PM PDT on Sep 21, 2013

I'm never gonna buy those products again... Didn't know nor imagine what's written in this article: thank you very much for sharing!

4:11PM PDT on Sep 7, 2013

As a duck owner, this was very disturbing to read, but thank you for bringing this to everyone's attention!

We really have to look at the story behind everything we've been tricked into consuming for the past few decades and consider how our own consumption habits may be supporting industrial nightmares like this.

8:30AM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

So very sad :'(

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