The geese are bred primarily for meat and their livers. Photo: Christine Matthews CC-BY-SA-2.0

The geese are bred primarily for meat and their livers. Photo: Christine Matthews CC-BY-SA-2.0

Two leading outdoor clothing companies have admitted their insulated products contain down from geese that have been force-fed.

The birds are bred and raised in Hungary for foie gras during which they are subjected to the feeding regime that is banned in many European countries and USA states.

Both Patagonia and The North Face said they are aware of the issue and are working on a long-term solution, but international animal-rights organisation Four Paws has called on Patagonia, which is at the forefront of ethical business practices, to label its products that do contain down from force-fed geese and to stop using the down.

Patagonia said: “We had been told previously that geese force-fed for foie gras produce an oily, second-quality down that would not be supplied to us.

“This turns out to be incorrect; the quality of down is not affected.

“And we were, and are, being supplied down from force-fed geese raised for their liver as well as their meat.

“We decided to investigate further: we dispatched our director of social and environmental responsibility; our director of materials development; and our strategic environmental materials developer to Hungary with two principals from Allied Feather & Down [the suppliers of Patagonia’s and The North Face’s down].

“We wanted to get the facts first-hand. We visited two down and feather processing facilities, two slaughterhouses and two goose farms that supply geese.

“Our suppliers were honest and open with us on the trip but we should note that we did not visit all stages of the supply chain.

“What we did learn does not sit well with us. Four Paws was correct: we are using down from geese harvested for foie gras as well as meat, with down as a by-product.”

The North Face’s vice-president of operations Joe Vernachio said: “The North Face does not condone the practice of force-feeding geese. This is an issue that is important to us.

“Down used in manufacturing is derived from geese that are primarily raised for their meat and liver, which industry experts estimate comprise 85 to 90 per cent of the economic value of a goose.

“By comparison, down is estimated to comprise roughly five per cent of the economic value.

“Put another way, the value of down itself is not an economic driver in goose farming. If the apparel and bedding manufacturing industries were to cease using down as a material, goose farming would continue unabated due to the demand of the food industry.

“The majority of outdoor industry products such as jackets and sleeping bags use down from grey geese while the bedding industry uses down from white geese.

“Grey geese are raised primarily by farmers for their meat and liver, which are used by the food industry to make products such as foie gras.”

Mr Vernachio added: “On an industry-wide basis there is a general lack of traceability of materials in the down supply chain and, as a result, there was a point in time when we stated that the down we use in our products was not sourced from force-fed geese.

“We have since learned that this is not the case and we apologise for and regret not having greater insight into the origins of our down and any inaccurate statements we made about it.

“The North Face is working with its suppliers and partners to find a long-term solution to avoid sourcing down that is a by-product of force-feeding.”

Both companies use down supplied by Allied Feather & Down, a California-based company that also counts as its partners Helly Hansen, Eddie Bauer, Outdoor Research, Feathered Friends and Western Mountaineering.

Some Patagonia and The North Face customers have expressed disappointment with the companies on their Facebook pages after news of the foie-gras geese down was published in newspapers at the weekend. Leaflets about the issue were also handed out to visitors at the giant Munich ISPO outdoors trade fair.

Patagonia said it has put in place other measures to deal with problems goose down presents. A statement said: “Down clothes are tricky to make in two ways: special care has to be taken to safeguard workers who fill and sew the garments.

“Anyone who has worked with down knows that it is lighter than feathers and resistant to gravity. Down rooms have to be sealed off from other areas and workers have to wear masks to keep from inhaling the fibre.

“We have worked with our factories to ensure healthy conditions for people who work with down.

“The second area of concern is treatment of the geese. You have to go deep into the supply chain from sewing factory to down vendor to processor before you finally get to a farm. And a single goose can spend its life on four different farms.

“This complexity is also true of other products involving animals, including shoes and wool and sweaters.”

It said it had refuted Four Paws’ claims that it used down from live-plucked birds.

Patagonia said: “We are not comfortable using down from force-fed geese. We have learned much from our research but still have no short-term alternative source for down from geese that are neither live-plucked nor force-fed.”

It added: “If you’re a vegan whose avoidance of animal products extends to shoe leather, you may also want to avoid down clothing.

“And if you think foie gras should not be produced or sold you may also want to avoid its by-product. We offer a number of synthetically insulated garments.

“Synthetic insulation, while not as efficient as down, works better than down in wet conditions.”

The North Face’s Joe Vernachio said: “We believe that we have an obligation to ourselves and our customers to better understand the source of materials in our supply chain and to advocate for the humane and ethical treatment of animals that are a part of it and are committed to doing so.

“In addition, we will seek to find a long-term solution that avoids sourcing down that is a by-product of force-feeding. While we are not an economic driver of the goose farming industry, we will make our stance on its practices known.”