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Down from Geese and Ducks

As long as geese and ducks are raised for meat and their down is used, FOUR PAWS will push to ensure that they have a life free of pain and suffering and a life where their essential needs are met.


More than 700 million geese and up to 3 billion ducks are raised and slaughtered globally on industrial farms each year. While geese and ducks are raised for their meat, two of the most intense levels of suffering they are subjected to during their lives include the cruel practices of live feather plucking for their down and force-feeding for foie gras, which is why these areas are our key focus.


Foie gras and down are both products that are obtained from geese and ducks. Some waterfowl are live-plucked before they are force-fed. The force-feeding lasts three long weeks, until the liver is fatty enough to be dispatched to gourmet restaurants as foie gras. The ducks and geese are kept in appalling conditions, and are fed and made ill by mechanized systems. They are then slaughtered, and the down and feathers of these tortured birds end up in our pillows and duvets.


Typical countries where down is sourced from include China, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Siberia, France, U.S., and Canada. Live-plucking is known to have occurred in Poland and China, while Hungary is known for both live-plucking and foie gras production.


In the video below, former professional boxer Regina Halmich collaborated with FOUR PAWS to show a look behind the scenes of the foie gras and down feather industries.

Down Feathers

The term down refers to the soft layer of fine, small feathers closet to a bird’s body. Down feathers help insulate against heat loss and add buoyancy in the water for aquatic birds like geese and ducks. Their lightness and heat trapping ability is what makes down a desirable material to use in products such as coats, bedding (duvets, comforters, and blankets), pillows, and sleeping bags. 

Producers and suppliers of down will say that it is a natural material sourced from geese and ducks after they are slaughtered for meat production, therefore the down and feathers are simply valuable by-products of the duck and goose meat industry. However, this is not always the case. In addition, companies will claim they do not accept down from live-plucked or force-fed animals, yet evidence to back these claims is often missing.


The Down Industry

Tracing down to its origins is not a simple task. This is because down travels through many hands: down can come from a farm where live-plucking has occurred, to collectors or a slaughterhouse where foie gras animals were slaughtered, to down washing facilities, then processing plants where down from different farms or sometimes different countries is mixed. By the time it ends up in a jacket or sleeping bag, the cruel practices disappear into the supply chain and brands cannot really prove how cruelty-free their products are without due diligence.


It is clear that even brands who request down that comes from a higher welfare source often do not know the origin and life cycle of the down they receive.  This is mainly due to a lack of transparency and the number of different processing stages. Many brands cannot fully trace the down in their jackets or sleeping bags back to the actual farms where the geese or ducks were born or raised without taking the proper steps. So how can they then guarantee to consumers that their down supply chain is free of live-plucked or force-fed geese and ducks?

Full Supply Chain Traceability

In the past, most brands did not send auditors onto the farms in order to check whether these cruel practices are part of their supply chain or not. It is this lack of strong audits, particularly at the parent farms, that allows the problems of live-plucking and force-feeding to continue.

With brands still choosing to use down in their products, FOUR PAWS calls on them to provide the highest possible guarantees that the cruel practices of live-plucking and force-feeding are truly avoided. This is where full supply chain traceability (parent farm to product) with strong safeguards is imperative. Annual unannounced audits are needed to ensure that claims of farms, slaughterhouses, and washing facilities that participate in a cruelty-free supply chain are transparent and reliable. To ensure the credibility of animal welfare claims, a large majority of the farms, if not all of them, need to be inspected annually and ideally via surprise or unannounced inspections. The keeping conditions of animals should be inspected, whether they are healthy, have outdoor space, proper flooring, food and water or not.


Parallel production, where one supply chain allows for both animal friendly and cruel practices to take place simultaneously, must be avoided. On farm-level parallel production cannot be accepted, as farms performing live-plucking or force-feeding cannot be considered cruelty-free. When slaughter houses and washing facilities are involved in parallel production, measures have to be taken to avoid mixing. Moreover, conditions during transport and slaughter can especially cause stress for animals and should be regulated and controlled during inspections. Only by tracing down feathers from parent farms to products can it be guaranteed that down feathers comes from birds that did not endure live-plucking or force-feeding in their lifetime.


FOUR PAWS has been addressing the cruelty that geese and ducks face in the down industry for nearly a decade and decided to engage with industry players so that, as long as they use down, they make sure that the animals in their supply chains are spared of live-plucking and force-feeding to the best possible extent. The organization has gained immense knowledge regarding the traceability of feathers and down and has used this information to advocate for best practice traceability requirements.


The campaigns at FOUR PAWS have engaged major brands in the outdoor industry, such as The North Face and Patagonia, and have taken part in processes that have led to setting up industry-wide traceability and animal welfare standards: Responsible Down Standard (RDS), a Textile Exchange-owned standard, and Global Traceable Down Standard (TDS) an NSF-owned standard. While almost all traceability gaps are tackled under these standards, they do not yet prohibit suppliers from providing cruel down in parallel to certified down, mainly because most suppliers cannot yet meet that requirement. However, progress on this issue has been made with one down supplier, Allied Feather and Down, who is the first major supplier to sell only fully audited down that is free from live feather plucking and force-feeding of geese and ducks.

What is FOUR PAWS opinion on recycled down?

Recycled down can be collected from old finished down products. The origins of recycled down cannot be verified, and consumers will not be able to know if the down comes from animals that were live-plucked or force-fed in their life-times. However, no new animals will be slaughtered for recycled down. Nevertheless, recycled down has to be fully traced to guarantee that it is not mixed with non-traced “fresh down” from live-plucked or force-fed birds.

What can consumers do?

The best way to avoid animal cruelty is to purchase non-animal based products, which is easy to do as there are excellent plant-based alternatives available to down. 


However, if consumers still want to use down products, then they should shop with care and avoid brands that cannot guarantee that the down supplied in their products was fully controlled and audited under the strictest animal welfare and traceability standards (such as TDS and RDS certified down).