Down as a filling material is without doubt an all-rounder. But ducks and geese often have to pay a high price for these comfortable down products: When live down is plucked, the feathers are simply torn out of the live animals.
But what do quality seals such as Global Traceable Down Standard or Responsible Down Standard really say and what should you look out for if you care about animals?
What is down?
Down is the lowest layer of feathers of geese and ducks. Due to their excellent thermal and climatic properties, they are a very popular filling material for (outdoor) clothing, sleeping bags and bedding.
Unfortunately, there is a huge catch when it comes to down filling: animal welfare is often trampled on – at least outside Europe.
Live plucking for down products
Unfortunately, live plucking is still a frequently used method for down production outside the European Union. The animals are grabbed, turned upside down and plucked while fully conscious. The bloody wounds caused by this brutal process are then quickly stitched with needle and thread.
Already the fact that living animals simply have their natural hair pulled out is horrible. But that’s not all: Since this is piecework, the animals are treated extremely roughly. Enormous stress, broken bones and wound infections are the order of the day in live plucking.
The suffering of animals ends only with death. Because geese that still grow feathers despite high stress levels are plucked once more. Alternatively, they are fed so much maize porridge through a tube that their liver is enlarged tenfold and the so-called foie gras can be sold as a delicacy.
Based on all these factors, you may now ask yourself whether there are any down products that you can still buy with a clear conscience. The answer? Yes – if you consider the following points.
Look for what?
No animal should have to suffer just so we can literally adorn ourselves with its feathers. Therefore, it is better to invest some time in the search for an acceptable down product. This is how it works:
With the origin of down it is not only important to boycott live plucking. You should also not support the so-called scuffle. Theoretically, only feathers that would be lost to the animals during moulting are “stripped off”. In reality, however, in factory farming the probability that feathers are torn out too early and roughly is much too high. Therefore, down should only be obtained from animals that have already been slaughtered in food production.
Orientation towards seals of quality
Many manufacturers of down products have meanwhile committed themselves to animal welfare and have developed corresponding certificates. The most important of these are:
- Verantwortlicher Daunenstandard (RDS)
The RDS was initiated by The Northface and is today also taken into account by brands such as Mammut, Jack Wolfskin, Deuter, Salewa, Columbia or Hess-Natur. The certificate requires good housing conditions and prohibits live plucking, scuffling and force feeding. Controls are announced and unannounced.
- Global Traceable Down Standard (Global TDS)
Originally developed by Patagonia, this seal of quality has now become a global award. Like the RDS, the Global TDS prohibits force feeding
- Dream Pass
The Dreumpass is issued by the Association of the German Down and Feather Industry (VDFI) and also requires the renunciation of live plucking. The individual products have an individual check number sewn into them, which would allow the origin and holding conditions of the down filling to be traced exactly.
These three quality labels are among the most important in terms of animal welfare in down trading. With one of the certificates the probability of a justifiable production increases significantly.
Go right into it
The more a dealer can tell you about the origin of the product components, the better. However, it is also unlikely that shop assistants in the shop know too much about the conditions under which the product is manufactured.
So if the retailer himself only gives vague information, you can at least check the bedding section of the Association of the European Bed Feather and Bedding Industry, where you can find down products that are guaranteed to be made without live plucking or scuffing.
A down jacket can carry as many seals as you like, but in the end it must be clear: What you know about the product is based on trust with the retailer. There are always black sheep, and for this reason you should steer clear of down products that are sold at very cheap prices and under dubious promises.
However, it is also true that price alone is no guarantee for good production conditions. There are always scandals, because unfortunately there are no uniform European or worldwide guidelines for animal welfare in down production. Seals of approval such as the RDS are a good indication, but realistically there is – almost – no hundred percent guarantee.
Choose harmless down
Eider down is a major exception. This is because the eider duck is a protected species, so its feathers may only be picked up by hand as soon as they have fallen out. So you can really be sure that you’ve got eider down: that the duck has given up these feathers voluntarily. The laborious picking up and the low yield also means that eider down has a high price.
Ultimately, down is a delicate matter, because with the exception of eider down, we can never judge for ourselves under what conditions the feathers are obtained. Here we have to rely on the information and seals of quality provided by the dealers – or switch to vegetable fibres, for which no animal was guaranteed to leave hairs.