Almost three years ago now, Patagonia was called out by the animal welfare organization Four Paws for using down obtained from the live plucking of geese. This "scandal" has since propelled the entire outdoor industry to move towards a more ethical and traceable down supply. For some brands however, this is not enough. Coleman recently announced they are completely dropping down from their product line as they see no way to ethically procure the raw material. 

In 2012, the OIA Sustainability Working Group and the Textile Exchange created the Down Task Force to better understand the traceability challenges within the down supply chain, and ultimately, to develop a standard for traceability of ethically harvested down.

The majority of outdoor industry products, such as jackets and sleeping bags, use down from grey geese. Farmers raise grey geese for the meat and liver, using force-feeding to fatten their livers for foie gras production. The feathers are simply a byproduct of raising the geese for food.

Various estimates suggest that goose meat and liver represent approximately 85–90 percent of the economic value of a goose. By comparison, down is estimated to comprise roughly 5 percent of the economic value. Theoretically, this gives the outdoor industry little to no leverage over the farming techniques, so is an ethical supply chain really feasible?

After learning from PETA that down is often obtained from birds who have their feathers plucked off of their bodies while they are still alive or who are unnaturally fattened in the production of foie gras, The Coleman Company became the first outdoor retailer to switch to selling only synthetic sleeping bags and jackets.

As of spring 2013, Patagonia Traceable Down has been used in all the Ultralight Down products. The company plans to add Traceable Down styles each season, with the move to 100% Traceable Down across the entire collection of down-insulated product by the Fall 2014 season. Patagonia Traceable Down is sourced from birds that have been neither force-fed for foie gras production nor plucked for their feathers and down during their lifetime. The North Face is currently working on a similar program. 

What do you think- is traceability going far enough or do you think the outdoor industry should follow Coleman's lead and drop down gear all together? Would you happily choose products with synthetic insulation over duck or goose down?

No Comments Yet
  1. Am trying to work out whether there is a massive difference in practice between the down used by European brands or whether this article contains lots of facts which are just plain wrong. The European Outdoor Group’s Down task force group have ruled that there will be no use of down from foie gras geese or birds that have been live plucked. There has also been a big move to duck down (something this article gives a passing mention). Down is a minor part of the economics of the animal – but an important part; if the down was not sold it would have to be burnt as it can’t be thrown away to landfill (this would add to the footprint); it is also a product that can outperform & lasts much longer than the petrochemical alternative. Schemes like Mountain Equipment’s Codex traceability guide don’t even get a look in in the author’s overview of the market. I am very keen to hear from the author about why none of the European brands are mentioned or why the progress made by the EOG (Europe’s equivalent to the OIA) have been ignored. This article I regard as either poorly compiled from a piece of PR (at best) or a deliberate attempt to place incorrect facts in the minds of consumers…

  2. Hi Charles,

    Thanks very much for your comments. I do indeed know of the great work both the EOG and OIA are doing to create a more traceable and accountable down supply network. Although I did not mention Mountain Equipment or other European brands, I did point out that Patagonia, The North Face, and other US based brands are striving for a fully traceable supply chain of non-foie gras or live plucked down (similar to their European counter parts).

    What the article is simply trying to show is that some brands, such as Coleman, are choosing to drop down all together as they feel that is the only way they can absolutely guarantee animals have not been harmed. This is their choice, and not the choice for everyone.


Contact Us