Marriott International is one of the companies singled out in a recent campaign by United Poultry Concerns (UPC) to discontinue the use of feather and down products. Nordstrom is another company UPC is urging its followers to contact to discontinue the use of feather and down. I was contacted by a public relations representative of UPC recently and ended up chatting with Karen Davis, PhD, founder and president of UPC. Turns out it is not just Marriott and Nordstrom that Davis would like her organization’s followers to contact. All hotel companies should be contacted, she says. Marriott and Nordstrom were pinpointed because, “You have to give people something to focus on,” Davis says. Of course if I were UPC’s PR representative, I would not single out any particular company. Davis says Marriott and Nordstrom's use of down/feather products was confirmed prior to the PR effort.
Fair guy that I am, I gave Davis the chance to tell me about her cause. Like the acquisition of many animal products, the securing of feathers and down for pillows and comforters and other products is not a pretty business. According to UPC, “Down, the soft breast feathers of live birds, is mixed with slaughterhouse feathers from ducks, geese and chickens to fill pillows and comforters at many hotels and in the making of some designer outerwear. The feathers originate on industrial farms where they are ripped from the bodies of live geese, leaving them bleeding in excruciating pain. Other feathers are byproducts of the foie gras industry, in which ducks and geese are force fed with metal tubes to create diseased livers for gourmet appetizers.”
On UPC’s website, investigator Marcus Mueller, who tracks the Hungarian brigades of feather strippers, describes the process: “The men and women from the brigades work without feeling, grabbing terrified geese by their wings or legs, sometimes breaking them, always hurting them, as they tear out the birds’ feathers. Manufacturers and retailers who say they don’t use down from live-plucked birds cannot prove their claim. Brigades go from farm to farm stripping the birds as they go, then the feathers are sold to brokers and middlemen who mix live-plucked feathers with those recovered from slaughtered animals.”
I put in a call to a pillow company contact I have to ask about all of this but did not get a reply. “Even though a retailer may assure a customer a product was sourced from a place where birds were not live-plucked, they don’t really know that,” Davis says. “There is no real tracking of where the feathers come from.”
Davis says that when she stays at a hotel, she insists on a feather and down free hotel room, preferring to sleep with fiber/polyester-filled pillows and coverlets.
I am sure there is a lot of merit in what UPC argues and I will never look at a pillow or duvet the same again. The procurement of feathers and down is one of those things that happens that we do not think about or want to think about. I rank it right up there with leather acquisition and meat processing.
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