The down of birds is a layer of fine feathers found under the tougher exterior feathers. Very young birds are clad only in down. Down is used as a thermal insulator and padding, used in goods such as jackets, bedding, pillows and sleeping bags.
Some 70 percent of the world’s supply comes from China, typically from birds killed for their meat. Most of the rest comes from Europe and Canada, from birds slaughtered for meat or pâté.
A percentage of the world’s supply of down feathers has been plucked from live birds, a practice which is condemned as cruel by animal welfare groups. The precise percentage of down harvested in this manner is uncertain. Although live-plucking is illegal in the United States and Europe, it is known to occur in two European countries (Poland and Hungary) and in China.
Public sentiment against the practice has, in some countries, been strong enough that large retailers such as IKEA and Patagonia have been forced to alter product lines to eliminate the use (or possible use) of live-plucked down.