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FOUR PAWS’ 40 Lives campaign sparks major changes in Europe’s down industry


European retailers to exclude down from “live plucked” animals from their products


European retailers to exclude down from “live plucked” animals from their products

Brussels, 27 April 2017 – Last year FOUR PAWS discovered that big European household brands and retailers did not require strict enough measures to prevent brutal practices being inflicted on geese and ducks in the production of down used in bedding. As a result, the international animal welfare organisation launched the 40 Lives campaign to draw attention to the suffering hidden in many down pillows and duvets. The campaign has already seen significant results. Numerous brands and shops have agreed to control their supply chains more thoroughly to better exclude down from live plucking and force-feeding. 


Live plucking and force feeding

On many goose farms in Eastern Europe and China, it is still common practice to brutally pluck the birds while they are still alive. Live plucking may occur up to 16 times during the course of the birds’ lives. This practice often causes severe injuries, and wounds are then clumsily stitched, without any kind of pain relief. Though this barbaric practice is illegal within the EU, a loophole in the law allows for “harvesting” of down during moulting. As a result, many farms go on with the practice without any consequence. 


As well as being live plucked, many geese and ducks being farmed for their down are also force-fed for the production of foie gras. Up to three times a day, a metal tube is rammed down the animal’s throat, with a mixture of cooked corn and fat is force-fed through. As birds’ livers are unable to process the large volumes of food, they grow in volume and reach up to ten times the size of a healthy liver within a few weeks. Force-feeding lasts up to three long weeks, until the liver is fatty enough to be served as foie gras. The down and feathers from these force-fed birds then also end up in pillows and duvets. To fill one duvet, down from approximately 40 birds is needed. While force-feeding is banned in most European countries, France, Hungary, Spain, Belgium and Bulgaria still allow it. Force-feeding is also practiced in China.

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40 Lives campaign   

In November 2016, FOUR PAWS launched its 40 Lives campaign, which highlights the fact that retailers are not doing enough to exclude cruel down from the products in their shops. FOUR PAWS asked its supporters to vote for the retailer doing the least to prevent cruelty from their products. The “winner” is set to receive the prize that nobody wants: “The Blood Feather Award”. After the campaign was launched key players in the bedding industry finally started moving forward.  

Nina Jamal, Campaign Lead Farm Animals at FOUR PAWS explained: “We have confronted suppliers, brands and retailers in the bedding industry. We asked them to find out more about the animals in their supply chains and not allow down from live plucking and force-feeding to enter their products. We managed to convince major suppliers in Europe to implement the strictest available controls to better exclude these cruel practices from their products. Many of the most popular bedding shops, including shops managed to disqualify themselves from the Blood Feather Award. We congratulate them on taking these steps.” 

FOUR PAWS convinced the down industry to upgrade a widely implemented down standard, the Downpass.  Its latest version, the Downpass 2017, makes farm controls mandatory and requires not just the exclusion of down from live plucked animals but also force-fed geese and ducks. These requirements were only optional in the past.


“The new Downpass 2017 includes significant improvements compared to its previous versions. Nevertheless, we are hoping to see additional animal welfare requirements and stricter definitions of high and low risk regions in the revised versions of Downpass 2017. It’s important to make sure that all farms in high risk regions are controlled annually and unannounced,” concluded Jamal.

Stop suffering

 Tough 40 Lives campaign achieved significant results, FOUR PAWS is still calling on all remaining bedding manufacturers and shops in Europe to take responsibility for the animals in their down products and credibly exclude down from force-fed or live feather plucked animals from their products. It can be achieved by offering alternatives to down and requiring stricter measures and thorough controls back to the farms for their down supply chains.

Supporters can also help the cause through the following easy steps:

-          Find out which retailers, brands and suppliers are making progress on excluding down from live plucked and force-fed animals from their products on

-          Check very carefully where the down comes from when buying duvets, pillows and other down products. Pay attention to the labels and ask the shop what these labels really stand for. Not all of them can ensure that down and feathers come from ducks and geese that have been spared of the most cruel practices. Find more about animal welfare labels and certificates on

-          Use plant-based and synthetic alternatives. This is the only way to fully avoid animal cruelty in the down. Many down alternatives show similar, if not better, quality and comfort when compared to down.