Each year, the down and silk industries exploit millions of geese, ducks, silkworms, spiders, and other animals, causing unnecessary pain and suffering to these feeling beings.
Geese and Ducks Suffer for Down
Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to birds’ skin, primarily in the chest region. These feathers are highly valued because they do not have quills. Most products labeled “down” contain a combination of these underfeathers and other feathers or fillers. While most down and feathers are removed from birds during slaughter, geese from breeding flocks and those raised for meat and foie gras may be live-plucked. In countries where this cruel practice continues, up to 5 ounces of feathers and down are pulled from each bird every six weeks from the time that they are 10 weeks old until they are up to 4 years old.(1)
Plucking geese causes them considerable pain and distress. One study of chickens’ heart rates and behaviors determined that “feather removal is likely to be painful to the bird(s),” and another study found that the blood glucose level of some geese nearly doubled (a symptom of severe stress) during plucking.(2,3)
Eider ducks are a protected species, but their feathers are sought out for bedding and clothing. The females lay eggs and surround them with feathers plucked from their own breasts. Farmers in Iceland gather more than 6,500 pounds of Eider duck feathers each year.(4) By taking these feathers, farmers are removing important insulation that the eggs need to hatch. It takes feathers from at least 80 nests to fill just one comforter.(5)
Silk Production Causes Painful Death for Insects
The so-called “silkworm” is actually a domesticated insect who, in nature, goes through the same stages of metamorphosis—egg, larva, pupae, and adult—that all moths do.(6) Silk is derived from the cocoons of larvae, so most of the insects raised by the industry don’t live past the pupae stage, as they are steamed or gassed alive in their cocoons.(7) Approximately 3,000 silkworms die to make every pound of silk.(8)
Pharmaceutical companies have taken an interest in these insects, too, because they are perceived as inexpensive and easy to raise and can be genetically engineered to produce silk that contains human collagen.(9) Silkworms have also been transgenically modified to spin fluorescent-colored silk.(10)
The military and medical communities have been testing on spiders, hoping to harness the strength and flexibility of spider silk into suture thread and to create a fabric that could replace Kevlar.(11) If they are kept together in captivity, however, spiders succumb to stress-induced cannibalism; 400 spiders are needed to spin enough silk to create a square yard of cloth, so farming spiders has not been a profitable venture.(12) Instead, scientists are experimenting on goats, cows, and hamsters by inserting spider-silk genes into their cells in an attempt to create proteins similar to those of spider silk.(13) Transgenic cloned goats, for example, produce milk that contains silk proteins, which have been used in fibers sold under the name “BioSteel.”(14,15) The military continues to fund this research, even though it has yet to produce a product that is commercially viable (it takes 600 gallons of milk to produce a single bulletproof vest).(16)
What You Can Do
Don’t buy silk or down items. Apart from the cruelty involved in its production, down is expensive and becomes useless when wet—unlike cruelty-free synthetic fillers such as Primaloft® and Thinsulate™, which retain their insulating capabilities in all weather.(17) Humane alternatives to silk include nylon, polyester, Tencel, milkweed seed-pod fibers, silk-cotton tree filaments, and rayon. Ahimsa silk, produced in India for Hindus, is made from the cocoons of caterpillars who have completed the moth stage and flown away.(18)
References 1) Andrzej Rosinski, “Goose Production in Poland and Eastern Europe,” Department of Poultry Science, Agricultural University of Poznan, 1999.
2) M.J. Gentle and L.N. Hunter, “Physiological and Behavioural Responses Associated With Feather Removal in Gallus Gallus Var Domesticus,” Research in Veterinary Science 50 (1991): 95-101.
3) J. Janan et al., “Effect of Feather Plucking in Geese’s Blood Glucose Level,” Hungarian Veterinary Journal Jun. 2001.
4) Árni Snæbjörnsson, “Eiderduck Farming in Iceland,” Legacy and Vision in Northern Agriculture 4th Conference, Akureyri, Iceland, Aug. 2001.
5) “Cuddy’s Duck,” The Living World, narr. Brett Westwood, BBC Radio, 3 Mar. 2002.
6) Kate Dalke, “Silkworms Spin Medicinal Gold,” Genome News Network, 10 Jan. 2003.
7) Ron Cherry, “Sericulture,” Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America 35 (1993): 83-4.
8) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne, “Silkworm (Bombyx Mori),” Insects and People 6 Jan. 2006.
9) Helen Pearson, “Silkworm Spins Skin,” Nature 16 Dec. 2002.
10) Sonia Roberts, “Canada: Silkworm Research Spins New Yarn Developments,” Just-Style.com, 23 Oct. 2003.
11) “Man-Made Spiders’ Silk,” Materials World 10 (2002): 26-8.
12) “Applications of Spider Silk,” School of Chemistry, Bristol University, 17 Jan. 2003.
13) Dan Vergano, “Success! Scientists Spin Spider Silk,” USA Today 20 Jan. 2002.
14) Stephen Willingham, “Scientists Weave Spider Silk Into New Bulletproof Vests,” National Defense Sep. 2000.
15) Edward Atkins, “Silk’s Secrets,” Nature 28 Aug. 2003.
16) University of Wyoming, “University of Wyoming Scientist to Examine Spider Silk Use for Sutures,” news release, 27 Jun. 2006.
17) Mike Waters, “Out Cold/Today’s High-Tech Clothing and Gear Make It Easier to Stay Warm and Dry When Camping During the Winter,” The Post-Standard 9 Jan. 2002.
18) Haripriya Srinivasan, “Weaving Life Into Art,” The Hindu 6 Jan. 2003.