If you’ve ever gotten your hair caught on something and felt the horrible snap as it was pulled out, you have just a bit of insight into the extreme pain and distress birds endure when their feathers are torn out by the fistful. Yet the coldhearted down industry often plucks birds alive in order to get their down—the soft layer of feathers closest to a bird’s skin. Those who aren’t live-plucked don’t fare any better: The feathers are torn from their corpses after they’ve been killed, typically for their flesh. Down is used in outerwear and comforters, but for geese and ducks, the down industry’s methods are anything but comfortable. Is there such a thing as responsible down?
Is There Such a Thing as Responsible Down?
There is no way to ethically, humanely, or responsibly produce or buy down. PETA entities have released nine exposés of the down industry, including facilities with ties to certified “responsible” companies. Each exposé has proved that intense suffering, unsanitary conditions, and horrific violence and killing are what the down industry is all about.
The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) claims to ensure that down and feathers come from birds who have not been subjected to any “unnecessary harm,” but stealing these things from them is always unnecessary and harmful.
PETA Asia’s investigation into RDS-certified farms in Russia revealed that workers violently restrained geese and painfully suspended them by their wings before stretching their necks across a stump and hacking away multiple times with a dull axe. The investigator filmed a worker hacking at one goose’s neck seven times before managing to decapitate the bird—all while the animal shrieked in pain and fear.
A veterinarian confirmed that these geese undoubtedly suffered tremendously while being suspended and restrained by the wings and while their necks were mutilated with multiple blows from an apparently dull axe in a crude attempt to decapitate them, all while they were conscious.
And for 13 months, from November 2021 to November 2022, PETA Asia investigators visited Vietnamese duck farms and slaughterhouses connected to dozens of companies that sell “responsible” down—including GAP Inc., Guess, and H&M—exposing birds’ terror in slaughterhouses. As seen in the investigative footage, workers mercilessly stabbed ducks, slit their throats while they were still conscious, and cut the feet off live birds.
One slaughterhouse owner who confirmed her business’s RDS certification admitted that it’s only audited every two years, despite the supposed RDS requirement for annual audits. She added that her employees never check for signs of consciousness before stabbing ducks in the neck and slaughtering them.
Companies selling down may tout the RDS in their branding, but as video footage of the industry shows, these standards protect only greedy companies’ wallets, not birds.
What’s the Difference Between ‘Live-Plucked’ and ‘Non Live-Plucked’ Down?
The short answer is that all birds in the down industry endure a violent death in a slaughterhouse, whether their feathers were stolen while they were alive or after they were killed. And when PETA and PETA Asia investigators spoke with suppliers to companies offering so-called “responsible” and “non live-plucked” down, they admitted to buying and selling live-plucked down.
One buyer even bragged about misleading customers, and an industry representative remarked, “We advertised that it’s all plucked after slaughter—nobody dares to buy it if you say it’s live-plucked.”
When workers pluck live geese and ducks, they pull fistfuls of their feathers out, often causing bloody wounds as the animals shriek in terror and pain. The frightened birds are often squeezed upside down between workers’ knees during the painful procedure—in one instance, an investigator photographed a worker sitting on a goose’s neck in order to prevent her from escaping.
Once their feathers are ripped out, many of the birds, paralyzed with fear, are left with gaping wounds, and some die as a result of the trauma. Regardless of whether the feathers are taken from live birds or birds killed for their flesh, these animals were bred, forced into a miserable existence, and tormented for their body parts.
Birds Are Not Down With Being Used for Their Feathers
When they live in nature, ducks are outgoing, social animals who feel most at ease when they’re with their “paddling,” a close-knit group of family members and friends. They swim and fly together in formation and even have regional accents. These birds feel fear and pain just as acutely as humans do and also want to live free of suffering. They need their feathers—we don’t.
When ducks are used for their feathers, they’re unable to express any of this vital behavior, and they’re killed long before they would be expected to die naturally.
Take Action for Ducks and Geese Used for Down
The only way to be a truly responsible shopper and ensure that no birds suffered for your clothing or bedding is to choose animal-free materials.