Sarah Stirling interviews British brand Mountain Equipment about issues with down sourcing such as force feeding, live plucking, and how they emerged as outdoor industry experts on this controversial topic.
In reply to UKC Gear: This article is very good and informative and quite honest. Good to see. The only thing that is totally wrong is stating that down is molted every 45 days.
Ducks and Geese molt once perhaps twice a year and the molt is to replace tatty and broken and worn out outer feathers.
Down is only ever removed by the bird itself during the end of the nesting period when the eggs are incubated. You may find the odd bit of fluff when a duck or goose is molting but they never ever molt their down. Having kept ducks and geese all my life I can assure you this is correct.
Eider down is from the Eider duck, some breeds of which are endangered. Historically it is harvested by humans from wild Eider duck nests that have been used and left as such there is no interaction with the animal whatsoever. This is why it is expensive as it is hard to come by and hard to harvest. To my knowledge Eider ducks are not farmed.
Thanks for this article, great to see the outdoor industry getting on board and being honest about a questionable product.
In reply to UKC Gear: Excellent article, and well-timed.
Brands like ME are way ahead of the game with their down. Fjallraven, who source from one supplier and have their 'own' farms and slaughter houses, have perhaps the ultimate solution, but that is not workable for really big brands.
In reply to Ducks Rock: Yes, to my knowledge eider ducks are not farmed. Not sure why.
In reply to Mr Fuller: Because they are a wild species and not domesticated. They have very specialist requirements as they are sea ducks. Some are also endangered and in general they are protected under various worldwide legislation. They will never be farmed unless there is a worldwide law change. Eider down is so good as they have the thickest down due to the fact they have to survive in arctic conditions.
In reply to UKC Gear: It is good to see large brands taking an ethical attitude, especially now that the economy means that lower cost products could be increasingly taking over a market share. It is also refreshing to hear the view that just because something is not possible yet doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying to improve standards and hold that as a long term goal. Another good reason to buy from companies with an ethical stance like ME or patagonia.
I'm sorry but these articles really makes me angry. I mean the sheer hypocrisy by the industry and Four Paws.
This big hassle around down sourcing and ethical down and stuff is so ridiculous. Come on, the goretex, polartex and all technical clothing materials are made in chemical plants in china where the environment turned into something that looks like the moon, and people are upset about live-plucking of geese.
And then Four Paws is more like a political activist group than an animal rights activist group. I would not be surprised if it would be uncovered that Four Paws is backed by the french government to crash the goose-industry of Germany, Hungary, Poland and everyone else... except France.
Erm sorry, I mixed up some things, and wrote a bit too fast. The problem with Four Paws is their questionable motives. As the article says they did not help because they just don't want down products. The same goes for foie gras trade. Many farmers in the EU make their living from this, and Four Paws already caused severe damage to this industry. Check google, espeically for hungarian and polish down trade but other countries are damaged as well.
I did not blame the french government, because I do not have any hard evidence. I simply said that I would not be surprised. Previously (i.e. in the last 5-8 years) Four Paws avoided the french farmers, and it made me wonder. However (and I do apologise for my previous posts) Four Paws managed to ban foie gras trade in California completely in 2012 july. This hurts french farmers most, as they are the biggest exporters of foie gras.
So I understand that live-plucking is a bad thing. I am against it as well. What I don't like is this hypocrite attitude that we wear technical clothing that has a very bad environment impact, and then kill our industry here in the EU because of allegedly "tortured" geese. And the word "allegedly" is very important! In hungary's case they did not prove their accusations, and there are serious lawsuits against them from the goose farms.
Think some good points have been made (beefed up with the sense of humour)
As one of the few Brits who works with the pan European trade body sustainability projects (the EOG's SWG), something big on our plate is what Greenpeace presented as part of their Detox campaign (read their Dirty Laundry reports). Everybody I work with is both keen to retain the eco-balance (knowing that we can strip it & prompt harm), but Greenpeace's research isn't always gospel
As a general direction I like what Greenpeace are doing, but sometimes am worried by their tactics - there is not always the most candid qualification. I suspect Four Paws are similar; did you see the Ethical Consumer report from a couple of years ago?
What ME have done is far in excess of the stage that the trade are at (anywhere!) & respect must be given to them for driving the subject forward. It is always easy to chuck dirt at the people who are first, as well as people choosing a particular ethical path - but this is more than a good intention: it is moving the industry forward to set a better standard that existed before
If this is something that you couldn't care about just remember that fire in Bangladesh clothing factory in which over 100 people died just over a month ago came about because the factory did not operate to ethical standards - it was price driven. If you care about the ethics in clothing manufacturing, you should be glad of the Codex work. There are always things that brands can do, but this work was an expense with no direct return-on-investment so you must respect ME management for being bold
No, I don't work for ME. I don't work for Alpkit, etc. I am proud I work in an industry where people do care
It is good to see this article generating so much interest and considered opinion.
Just to clarify, the point made about the '45 day moulting cycle' was made originally specifically in relation to the 'justification' for live harvesting with farmed geese. This information was contained in a review carried out by the European Food Standards Agency. For those who are interested, the scientific evaluation to which this cycle period refers is covered in this document.
> (In reply to UKC Gear) jeez, they're only ducks.
Yes but they get depressed and then a little down................terrible
Green Surf Monkey14 Jan 2013
In reply to UKC Gear: Why wasn't Tundra mentioned i.e. warmth Unlimited they have been making sleeping bags from naturally moulted adult birds for years suggest they get a mention. What happened to impartial reporting seems to be sponsored by mountain equipment.
Green Surf Monkey14 Jan 2013
In reply to Mr Fuller: see also Tundra sleeping bags made by warmth unlimited.
> (In reply to UKC Gear) Why wasn't Tundra mentioned i.e. warmth Unlimited they have been making sleeping bags from naturally moulted adult birds for years suggest they get a mention. What happened to impartial reporting seems to be sponsored by mountain equipment.
It is an article about Mountain Equipment and their approach to down. It is presented in our OI News section which are articles by, or about, the trade. This is stated in the text at the base of the article.
In reply to UKC Gear: I like this article. My own purchases over the last years have always made me quite unhappy with the world. So this year a new years resolution is to 'not purchase any NEW clothes'. This should have a better impact on environmentas opposed to questioning the sourcing and production of materials. My friends say this is a form of austerity, I think not. I do doubt Mountain Equipment and other brands would be happy if 25% of customers chose this resolution.
A couple of points. Polish down is about ethical as it gets at the moment. Live plucking is banned in Poland (although realistically, this isn't very easy and I don't know why anyone would do it) - to the best of my knowledge, it is the only country to do so. Forced feeding is also banned in Poland - I don't know however if there are other countries that do so.
The concern in Poland however concerns what they call the "harvesting" of down. This is the recovery of down when the goose is moulting (which it does every 6 weeks - contrary to what an early poster said although it may be a matter of the breed of their own geese) - and does require handling of the bird. However, this is only a light brushing of the chest area, and is only done outside of the nesting season (mother geese with young being quite aggressive!)
The Polish Institute for ? (I can't remember the exact name) is trying to market Polish down as truly ethically farmed - their aim is to sell it as a branded product. They aim to have every goose to be registered, whether if it is used for breeding or the meat industry, and I think they are quite a long way down this track. There are undoubtedly small holdings outside of this but they are a small minority and probably not part of the commercial supply chain anyway.
Most brands buy their down from consolidators who source down from a number of countries - predominantly Hungary, Ukraine and Siberia, as well as Poland - and process it (ie clean it) before selling it on.