Ethically sourced down is down that does not come from birds that were live plucked or force fed. Sometimes this sick industry plucks the geese when they are still alive- this is insanely painful, traumatic, and leaves the birds often to die of hypothermia or infection. Sometimes the chest is literally ripped open while the bird is still alive and then crudely stitched up with no anesthetic or antibiotic.
Force feeding occurs when the foie gras industry shoves tubes down the goose’s throat and over feeds them, resulting in a liver that is grossly swollen and oversized- often ten times its normal size. Those livers are then made into foie gras (which is then made into items like pate). This is animal torture and luckily foie gras from force fed geese is illegal in California though France still insists on allowing the practice.
If you want to buy down from animals that haven’t been live plucked or force fed then look for the RDS or TDS label:
Responsible Down Standard (RDS)
What it means: The RDS certifies the traceability of down and that no animals are live-plucked. The RDS seal appears on all products from companies that are operating within the standard’s requirements and whose products are audited and certified by Control Union. You can enter the lot number of any RDS-certified product into the TrackMyDown website and trace the down back to its source.
The RDS is a great start in the right direction, but it still allows for a mix of certified and uncertified down in products bearing the RDS stamp. It also permits what’s called “parallel production’: down can come from farms where force feeding does happen to animals used for other products, so long as the down itself doesn’t come from force-fed animals.
Traceable Down Standard (TDS)- this is the better standard
What it means: This is a similar program to the Responsible Down Standard but spearheaded by Patagonia. It’s enforced by NSF International for Patagonia. The TDS is stricter than the RDS. The TDS reaches farther back along the supply chain to ensure its down isn’t coming from bird’s whose parents are being live plucked. I think the TDS allows for Parallel production too though.
Look for the RDS or TDS stamp on your down products. The goal is for ethically sourced down to come from companies who do not engage in any force-feeding or live plucking at all. By purchasing down with the RDS and TDS standard though, you are helping to transform the industry so we can reach that goal. And you can have peace of mind knowing you are helping to end live plucking and force-feeding. You can follow and participate in developments in places like this: http://down.four-paws.org/en/?locale=en_US
Here’s a great company selling RDS ethically sourced down: FeatheredFriends.com
p.s. If you’re concerned about eating geese that were tortured, Whole Foods refuses to sell foie gras. The goose meat they sell comes from humanely raised animals.
p.p.s. One more note on down: There are some great down alternatives out there as well. Primaloft is a down alternative microfiber originally developed by the US Army- it’s the first synthetic down! They wanted a material that had the warmth and lightweight powers of down but would dry quickly and still keep somebody warm even if they got wet. While Primaloft is a plastic based product, but it’s super warm, lasts a long time, is recyclable, and is hypoallergenic. You can get Primaloft pillows, comforters, and outerwear for a fraction of the price of down.
Also, regular polyester fiberfill is perfectly adequate in comforters and sometimes pillows too.