Contributor Steve Hines’ Explainer On Humane Goose Down Harvesting.

Harvesting goose down in humane conditions is a movement in the outdoor clothing industry.
Harvesting goose down in humane conditions is a movement in the outdoor clothing industry.

If you ski or do any winter outdoor sport you probably have or have had a down jacket. Now is a good time to evaluate what you have and will need for next winter.  If down is truly the answer, then you have to know there are choices between vendors who provide humanely harvested down and those who don’t, at least not yet.

Down consists of the small protective feathers from the chest and bellies of geese. And, while the geese are raised by farmers in Europe and China for this purpose (and for food), many geese are badly mistreated during their lives.

Among the most egregious abuses of these birds are:

  • Being kept in small coops where they cannot move around or change position
  • Being force fed to gain weight rather than eating at what would be their regular intervals
  • Being live plucked – having their feathers pulled off while they are still alive (the farmer hoping that the feathers will grow back so they can pluck them again).

Geese are sentient beings and feel pain. However, efforts are underway to correct these abuses by some of the largest retailers in the outdoor industry.

For good advice about the best down jacket for you, see Chris Simrell’s article on Outdoor Gear Lab.

Most manufacturers contract with suppliers who buy down feathers from farmers. So, the supply chain can be long and convoluted. The abuses happen at the farms themselves. Animal rights groups have spent time and resources documenting these abuses.

When the controversy first broke in late 2013, the first company to respond was Fjallraven, a Swedish clothing and gear company. Their response was to send teams to Europe and China to find and purchase goose farms that were already acting responsibly or which they could convert to responsible practices.

Quickly following was Patagonia, an American company founded by the famous mountaineer Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia has certified that all down suppliers for their garments come from farms that act responsibly. They hang a tag on their jackets carrying the term “Traceable Down”, which means that they know exactly which farms the down came from.

Look for this label when buying down-filled outerwear.
Look for this label when buying down-filled outerwear.

According to Leon Kaye at greengopost.com, Down & Feather Co., Down Linens, Helly-Hansen, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Nau and Outdoor Research are all following the lead set by Fjallraven and Patagonia.

While researching this story, at least three conflicting articles about The North Face’s (TNF) standards were uncovered. But, the most convincing article said TNF was working on it and the majority of their down garments will be using Responsible Down Standard (RDS) by fall 2015. So, this fall start looking for the tag that claims the product is certified as “Responsible Down”.

As of this writing, Columbia Sportswear claims they have demanded all suppliers adhere to RDS but have made no plans to certify or inspect. Your retailer should be able to provide this information.

Let’s applaud the efforts of companies who are acting responsibly.

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