One broker told me it was a bit like the drug trade — you can start off with a high-quality, pure product then you cut it with lower-quality stuff and end up with different products at different prices.’It’s impossible for manufacturers to be sure their down hasn’t been sourced from birds that were treated cruelly.’The same applies to most of the down and feathers used in ‘natural-filling’ pillows and quilts sold in Britain. The birds that are not plucked alive suffer equally horrifically. The cruelty dealt out to geese to produce foie gras is well known: tubes are rammed down their throats several times a day to force-feed them until their liver is ten times its normal size. Then their throats are slit. The production of foie gras is banned in many countries, including Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Norway, Poland, the Netherlands, Israel, Switzerland, South Africa, Luxembourg and Denmark, and most U.S. states. It is not produced in the UK either — our animal welfare laws prevent it — but it is legal to sell it.
While most shoppers would not dream of buying the gourmet food, they are unaware that the seemingly innocuous down in their coat is a byproduct of the cruel foie gras process.So, if you want buy a down jacket, how can you know what’s gone into it? This week, during a trawl of British shops, I found down-filled coats made by Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren, Benetton, Gap, Patagonia, The North Face, Rab (a Snow & Rock supplier), Marks & Spencer, Puffa and Tommy Hilfiger.I asked each for their policy on the sourcing of down. The responses — and sometimes the lack of them — were telling.Ralph Lauren, Puffa, Armani and Tommy Hilfiger all failed to reply. Rab, which makes expedition-quality clothing, said: ‘We do our utmost to ethically source down but the complexity and scale of the down supply chain makes a 100 per cent guarantee almost impossible.
To say otherwise could be dishonest and misleading.’Benetton would only say that its down came from slaughtered animals. A Gap spokesman said: ‘We do not use live-plucked down or feather products’ but failed to clarify whether it sourced from the food industry.Last February, The North Face and Patagonia were embarrassed when Four Paws proved the down in their clothing came from geese force-fed in Hungary, contrary to assurances that they had been given by their supplier, U.S.-based Allied Feather & Down, the world’s biggest provider.Nine months on and The North Face and Patagonia are still unable to say their clothing is completely sourced without cruelty. But Patagonia’s environmental manager Isabelle Susini says her company is trying to solve the problem. ‘The supply chain is so complex that it is very difficult to be certain about the source of your down,’ she admits.’The birds are reared on different farms as they grow, so there can sometimes be several steps even before the slaughterhouse.