Down is often collected through a procedure called live plucking. Which is pretty much what it sounds like: A worker restrains the bird and rips out feathers by the handfuls, especially from the goose’s underbelly but sometimes also from the back. Often, pieces of skin come off as well, the birds scream in terror and struggle to get away. Sometimes they die from the trauma. Just Google “down cruelty” and you’ll find plenty of pictures of miserable, bald and dying geese straight from my nightmare. Animal rights groups contend that this practice encompasses 50-80 percent of all down.
Down obtained post-slaughter as a byproduct of meat production is considered less cruel, but it doesn’t mean that the geese haven’t been raised in crowded, inhumane factory-like conditions. According to Veterinary Practice News, “geese on Hungarian factory farms [where much of the world’s down comes from] are raised in small areas that may contain up to 20,000 geese.” Gray geese, in particular, get the worst of both worlds: They are raised for down and foie gras (mostly in Hungary, where it is still legal; all EU nations but five have banned the raising of geese for foie gras), which means the birds often endure up to six rounds of live-plucking while being force-fed and then slaughtered for their swollen livers.
So what’s in your urban-hip down coat? Very little down is produced in the U.S., most of it is imported by a California company, Allied Feather & Down. According to Four Paws, an animal rights organization in Germany, Allied sources much of its down from, you guessed it, Hungary. Hungarian down is considered to be of the highest quality because the down plumule is larger than normal, making it warmer — which is why it makes perfect economic sense for the Hungarians to specialize in both down and foie gras. Any company that sources from Allied Feather & Down probably has some live-plucked and/or foie gras down, notably North Face, the “it” down jacket company. North Face currently has by far the largest market share — 33.5 percent of the U.S. outerwear market for 2012 as reported by SportsOneSource to the New York Times — and is a favorite of celebrities such as the social activist Angelina Jolie and President Obama. A North Face representative told Salon the company is working on a “Responsible Down Standard,” but also confirmed that Allied Feather is unchanged as its source. Allied Feather did not respond to multiple requests for information on their down.
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