2 November 2022 – New video footage from global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS shows brutal scenes of geese being plucked alive for the production of down for the fashion industry, and should serve as an alarm bell for fashion brands to take action to reduce their use of down and utilise animal welfare certifications.
Live plucking involves farmed geese having their feathers violently pulled out of their skin every 6-8 weeks. Live plucking is done without any pain relief and leaves birds wounded, and in some cases, with broken wings and severe injuries, as a result of rough handling.
This process is happening in many down producing countries, and the products made are then sold in countries all over the globe, including Australia which imported US$1.71 million worth of down and feather in 2020 (up 13.8% from 2019). China, Germany, Poland, Hungary and the US are among our top trading partners for these imports.
The new footage, filmed on several farms across Poland, shows the painful procedure in action despite live plucking being banned in the EU.
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Brands, such as H&M, Patagonia, and The North Face, are spearheading animal friendly developments by implementing certain animal welfare standards or switching to animal-free alternatives to down.
But not enough brands, however, are responding to consumers concerns about animal welfare, and have not publicly committed to standards prohibiting live plucking in their supply chains such as Prada, Max Mara or Michael Kors.
“As we have found in many animal welfare standards, there are profitable loopholes for geese farmers and fashion brands. In the EU, while live plucking is banned, the gathering of feathers during natural moulting cycles is allowed.
When geese are in their moulting cycle, it is possible to collect feathers in a lower impact way. But since not all animals moult at the same time, farmers are motivated to collect as much and as quickly as possible, and this often happens by brutally plucking the birds while still alive.”
Jessica Medcalf, animal welfare in fashion expert at FOUR PAWS
The footage, released by FOUR PAWS, show that of 35 visited farms across Poland, almost half of them were reportedly forcibly removing down from live geese.
The disturbing footage documents geese vocalising and excessively flapping their wings while being plucked alive, indicating severe pain and distress. Geese were also found to have skin lesions, bruises and broken or dislocated wing bones, with some lying immobile or even dead.
“A striking finding of the latest investigation is that live plucking is prevalent in parent stock farms. These birds are kept for a lot longer and there is much more opportunity to pluck them alive. We estimate geese kept in parent farms can suffer the severe pain of live plucking 16 times before being slaughtered.”
FOUR PAWS urges fashion brands to take action and ensure their down supply chain is free from live plucking, and ideally transition to animal-free alternatives.
Statistics show that only five per cent of the globally manufactured down and feathers are sourced responsibly.
“This video shows the hidden cruelty that can occur in the world of fashion, when we see prioritisation of profit over the welfare of animals. Animals should never be made to suffer, especially at the expense of clothing.
“Consumers can help by choosing products filled with equally warm animal-free alternatives, or at the very least looking for certified down products. However, it’s important to note here, that parent farms aren’t generally included by these certifications so it’s vital to ask brands and product manufacturers if they can ensure the entire down supply chain is free from live plucking,” said Medcalf.
Global market is worth millions
It is estimated that the global down and feather production volume was around 532,528 tonnes in 2020 with China being the largest export country, responsible for around 80 per cent of the world's down and feather products. Poland is the third largest exporter of down and feather exports with a value of $73.8 million worth of material in 2020, with United States ($72.8M), and Germany ($67.7M) placing fourth and fifth in global ranking in down exports.
In 2019, FOUR PAWS launched its global Wear It Kind campaign to help geese, and millions of other animals abused for fashion. We are lobbying brands to ditch cruel animal products in their fashion supply chains, and embrace eco-friendly and animal-friendly alternatives. Since its launch, FOUR PAWS has successfully lobbied and supported hundreds of brands to adopt animal welfare policies, and publishes the Animal Welfare in Fashion report, which assesses and ranks popular global brands on their animal welfare policies, and how the fashion industry is progressing in response to this emerging issue.
Intensification of the poultry industry has led to multiple environmental impacts. Slaughterhouses release enormous amounts of waste into the environment, polluting land and surface waters as well as posing a serious human-health risk. Poultry co-products and waste may contain up to 100 distinct species of micro-organisms, including pathogens, in contaminated feathers, feet, and intestinal contents. Antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones leaked into waterways are found highly likely to have long-term ecosystem effects.
FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them.
Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, animals in fashion, farm animals, and wild animals – such as bears, big cats, and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones.
With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA, and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org.au