Why The Feather Trend Is Horrible For All Animal Lovers, Not To Mention Geese

Though the use of fur remains one of the fashion world's most heated debates, there's another, less widely discussed issue of potential animal cruelty prominent in the industry: fashion's feather trend. From goose down jackets to feathered earrings, there are plenty of items that animal-lovers may want to consider boycotting.

Feathers are easy to spot in, say, a feather boa or an Art Deco headband, but they could also be hidden in your coats, parkas, jackets, and other articles of clothing. They are often in pillows, faux flower arrangements, and other housewares.

The fashion industry's hunger for feathers has given rise to a tactic known as "live plucking" — which is exactly what it sounds like. Farm workers tear the feathers from geese while they are still alive, and, according to Animal Defenders International, the birds suffer big time because of it.

More specifically, live plucking goes like this: Farm workers clamp the birds' legs to prevent them from escaping. Then the ripping begins. The painful sensation is akin to having a clump of your hair pulled extra hard. The geese can be seen screeching in videos of the process. They bleed. If their skin is torn, workers will sew them up right then and there on the work floor, and then move on to the next goose.

Per Veterinary Practice News, geese are live-plucked up to six times a year until they are ready for their supermarket debuts. Maybe they are forced fed until they are primed for holiday dinners or die of what PETA calls "impaired liver function" to produce foie gras. Regardless of their fate, they lead a life filled with trauma. According to the National Humane Education Society, geese raised on factory farms do not fly, which deprives them of their natural instinct for bonding and teamwork. The NHES reports that factory farm geese also lack adequate space for dust baths, which is how they rid themselves of dirt and parasites in the wild, and are debeaked to prevent cannibalism.

The farms could, in contrast, wait until the geese molt, which they do naturally, or remove the feathers after the geese have been slaughtered for meat. That's the policy of the Hutterites, an Anabaptist farming community in western Canada, and the producer of feathers for companies like Canada Goose. The reason many farms don't wait is because time is money. Geese normally molt once a year and farmers have to keep up with demand. Even Canada Goose's CEO says that the demand for his company's coats exceeds the supply, according to Bloomberg Business. Bloomberg also reported that, per Nordstrom spokesman Pamela Lopez, "premium down" is the department store's "fastest growing category in women's outerwear."

While the United States and United Kingdom has banned live plucking, the practice is still employed in other parts of the world, particularly China (which produces 70 percent of the world's feathers) and parts of Eastern Europe—the places must likely to supply the US and the UK with feathers. Yao Xiaoman, vice chairman of the China Feather and Down Industrial Association, told the Canadian news service, Digital Service, that up to 0.3 percent of all goose feathers harvested in China are obtained by live-plucking.

According to PETA, you can't be certain your feathered goods didn't come by live-plucking unless they are marked cruelty-free. Take Patagonia and its traceable down standard, for instance. Patagonia guarantees customers that its products do not use feathers harvested by live plucking. The same goes for all members of the Down Association of Canada and the Home Fashion Product Association.

Now that spring is here, it may be tempting to lunge for the marked-down coat rack at your favorite store. Think first of our feathered friends. They have the right to the same kind of happiness we get from wearing long feather earrings.

Bustle has reached out to government health inspection agencies in China, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, Estonia, and Croatia for comment. We will update this post if they respond.

Updated May 12: A representative from Hungary's National Food Chain Safety office stated that live-plucking is prohibited under national regulation 32/1999 (III. 31.) FVM.

Image: Christine Stoddard