Follow the feathers: Why down’s “humane” claims can’t be trusted
The down used in coats, pillows, and blankets is commonly described as a “byproduct” of farms where animals are killed for food. In industry speak, this is “sustainable” “upcycling.” However, animal rights activists have documented cases where feathers were plucked from live birds, leaving them bloody and screeching in pain. In other cases, geese are force-fed to produce foie gras. Finally, almost all feathers for blankets and coats are sourced from factory farms, which create insufferable conditions for animals forced to live in crowded, dirty conditions, before they are slaughtered.
Lands’ End is one of the manufacturers that offers its customers the ability to trace the origins of some of the goose down used to insulate its jackets through a website called Track My Down, operated by a company known as ALLIED. According to the website, ALLIED is a “unique insulation brand” that has “close relationships with farms and all aspects of the supply chain.” Because of this, ALLIED says it is able to offer “complete transparency” that no down from its products was from live-plucked or force-fed birds.
However, the site largely includes marketing information about the benefits of down, rather than information on specific farms or the farms’ codes of standards toward their animals. There really is no way for the individual consumer to “track” the down to its source.
Lands’ End claims the down they use is certified by an independent organization, the Responsible Down Standard, which is advertised as having been developed with input from animal welfare groups, industry groups, brands, and retailers. However, it’s unclear which animal welfare groups support the Responsible Down Standard. The website is largely focused on marketing down and features white geese pictured in a pleasant setting. There are, however, no legal standards for the welfare of these animals in this industry or for these claims.
Such marketing is rampant in industries that want to gloss over the treatment of animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) brought a lawsuit against Trader Joe’s on behalf of the company’s free-range egg customers. The egg cartons depicted hens in green, wide-open pastures, when, in fact, the birds were actually kept in warehouses by the thousands. The lawsuit contended the image was misleading for consumers, and the company chose to settle and discontinue the packaging.
“This issue of consumer deception by animal-using industries, whether it is fur or animal products or pets in pet stores, it’s really ubiquitous,” says Kelsey Eberly, a senior attorney with ALDF.
Adding to potential consumer confusion is the fact that many other companies follow different standards for traceability. Patagonia, for instance, has its own traceable down standard, as does Canada Goose. Given the competing standards, animal welfare group Four Paws has developed a ranking system for companies that use down.