I have previously discussed issues in the animal agricultural industry as well as morality associated with the consumption of animals, but it is important to discuss smaller issues that still carry a whole lot of moral weight. Winter has required us to dress in warmer layers that are lightweight but effectively reduce heat loss. Unfortunately, certain materials in winter clothing come from animals that are slaughtered for our comfort. In particular, I’d like to address the material down and the issues associated with down clothing. I understand that the percentage of animals used for down pales in comparison to the percentage of animals used in factory farming, but the cruelty entailed in the down production process is worth mentioning.
Down is the soft layer of feathers found predominantly in the chest region of ducks and geese. Down is valued for its lack of quills, and as I mentioned before, it is known for its insulating ability. Live plucking is illegal in the United States, but down is often imported from countries where it’s not. The process of plucking down from ducks and geese varies by country and farm, but it usually has similar techniques. The animals are lifted, sometimes by tied legs or by wings, and their feathers are plucked from their skin. Their feathers are plucked from the time they are 10 weeks old, every six weeks, until they are slaughtered. Problems occur when their feathers are plucked too hard; for example, the wounds can get infected and are stitched back together without painkillers. For some animals that are raised solely for foie gras, their feathers are not plucked until slaughter.
Foie gras is related to down in the sense that some ducks and geese will be used for both down and meat. The production of foie gras includes a high-starch diet to fatten the animals, and in order to make them gain weight quickly, foie gras producers will force-feed ducks and geese. Between eight and 10 weeks of age, force feeding takes place for 12-21 days via a feeding tube that is forced down their throats. Four pounds of food per day are pumped rapidly into their stomachs, leading to an enlarged liver that can be over 10 times larger than normal. Though the liver is the most prized part of the foie gras duck, other parts of the body and flesh will also be sold. Additionally, producers will sell down during the foie gras production to boost profit. Although France is the largest foie gras producer, the U.S. also has a few foie gras duck farms.
The percentage of farm animals raised for meat is exponentially greater than ducks and geese used for down and foie gras, but it still contributes to the overall unequal consideration of animals in the world. I don’t present this information to make you want to burn your down jackets or comforters. It’s not worth throwing out intact clothing if it’s already been bought, especially if received as a gift. But we can choose clothing in the future that doesn’t affect a large number of animals and contributes to processes that are deemed cruel. There are even winter insulators that work just as well as down and are synthetic. It takes a little more Web surfing, but you can reduce the suffering of thousands of animals by doing so.
Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at [email protected].
“Moo Over This” publishes biweekly.