Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to birds’ skin, primarily found in the chest region.
These “under-feathers” are highly valued because they don’t have quills. Most products labelled “down” contain a combination of these under-feathers and other feathers or fillers.
Most of the feathers that humans use come from chickens, turkeys, and geese who are raised for food. Many of them are kept in filthy, cramped cages or warehouses, where they’re given barely enough room to move.
When they’re slaughtered, they’re first electrically stunned. After their throats are cut (by hand, for geese) and they’re bled, the birds are scalded to facilitate removal of large feathers. Sometimes, they’re still conscious when they’re dumped into the tanks of hot water.
Down feathers are often plucked from live birds. Multiple times in their lives, live-plucked ducks and geese are held down by workers who tear out the softest feathers, a process so painful and inhumane that it’s outlawed in Western European countries.
PETA US and PETA Asia exposés have revealed that these cruel practices are widespread: to prevent the birds from escaping, workers stepped on their delicate wings and necks and tightly bound their feet together. They even put them in chokeholds while ripping out their feathers and swung them by their wings. After they were plucked bare, geese cried out as they ran back to their flocks. Sick and injured chicks, geese, and ducks were left to die slowly. Dead birds were found decaying in crates and ponds or tossed outside like garbage.
Many companies claim to use so-called “ethically sourced” feathers that are certified by the “Responsible Down Standard” (RDS).
PETA has found time and again that well-intentioned certifications do not guarantee humane practices – a fact that even industry sources acknowledge. PETA affiliates visited farms connected to RDS-certified companies in China and uncovered shocking cruelty that casts serious doubt on this certification. Eyewitnesses saw workers rip the feathers out of fully conscious geese, leaving open, bloody wounds.
Companies understand that most consumers would never buy live-plucked down if it were openly labelled as such. One industry representative remarked,
“We advertised that it’s all plucked after slaughter – nobody dares to buy it if you say it’s live-plucked”.
Their solution? Hide and mislabel their live-plucked down so that people will buy it.
Many major international brands – including Topshop, ASOS, Primark, and Dr Martens – have stopped selling down in favour of high-tech synthetics that are compassionate, warm, hypoallergenic, and insulating even when wet.
Take a stand against the cruel treatment of birds by not buying any items that include real feathers.
If you’re in a shop that carries products labelled as containing down, politely point out that they involve appalling and unnecessary suffering for animals and that you hope the management will reconsider carrying them.