Animal Writes
© sm
3 February 1999 Issue

Dumping Down, Silk, and Honey

Each year, the down, silk, and honey industries kill thousands of geese,
silkworms, and bees. Silk and honey producers excuse their actions with claims
that worms and bees are "simple" forms of life, but consumers are beginning to
question the unnecessary killing of even tiny, sometimes complex, and certainly
feeling, creatures like these.

Down on Down

"Down" is the soft under-feathering often plucked out of live geese who are raised
for food. In many European countries, geese are allowed to mature during the first
eight or nine weeks of life. Reaching adulthood, they are divided by color. Gray
geese are caged and force-fed -- a funnel is inserted into their throats and a salty,
fatty corn mash is forced down it, up to six pounds a day--until they are overweight
and their livers have ballooned to four or more times the normal size. Then they
are killed for pâté de foie gras.(1) White geese are plucked repeatedly to supply
filling for products such as comforters, pillows, and ski parkas.(2)

Plucking the geese causes them considerable pain and distress. Four or five
times in their lives, they will squirm as a plucker tears out five ounces of their
feathers. A skilled plucker can handle 100 birds a day. After the last plucking, the
geese have five weeks to grow more feathers before they are sent through a
machine that plucks their longest feathers. From there they go to the
slaughterhouse.(3) At least one major U.S. down seller, the Company Store (500
Company Store Rd., La Crosse, WI 54601-4477), buys down from Hungary and
other European countries.

In North America, ducks and geese are hunted and raised for their feathers (and
for food). People also gather eider down from the nests of female eider ducks,
who pluck the down from their breasts to line their nests and cover their eggs.
Gathering the soft feathers can kill unhatched ducklings.(4)

Apart from the cruelty involved in its production, down has drawbacks as a cold-
weather insulator that synthetic insulators do not have. Not only is down
expensive, it also loses its insulating ability when wet, whereas the insulating
capabilities of cruelty-free synthetic fillers are retained in all weather.(5)

Sack Silk

Silk is the fiber silkworms weave to make cocoons. To obtain the silk, silk
distributors boil the worms alive in their cocoons. Worms are sensate -- they
produce endorphins, a physical response to pain -- and anyone who has seen
worms scramble when their dark homes are uncovered recognizes this.

Humane alternatives to silk include nylon, milkweed seed pod fibers, silk-cotton
tree and ceiba tree filaments, and rayon.

How About Honey?

In the honey industry, the buzz word is profit. Like factory farmers, many
beekeepers take inhumane steps to ensure personal safety and reach production
quotas. It is not unusual for larger honey producers to cut off the wings of the
queen bee so that she cannot leave the colony, or to have her artificially
inseminated on a bee-sized version of the factory farm "rape rack."(6) When the
keeper wants to move a queen to a new colony, she is carried with "bodyguard"
bees, all of whom -- if they survive transport -- will be killed by bees in the new

Large commercial operations also may take all the honey instead of leaving the 60
pounds or so that bees need to get through the winter. They replace the rich honey
with a cheap sugar substitute that is not as fortifying or tasty. In colder areas, if
the keepers consider it too costly to keep the bees alive through the winter, they
will destroy the hives by pouring gasoline on them, killing most of the bees with
the fumes, and setting them on fire. Other times, keepers, who feel that lost bees
are easily replaced, allow them to die when trees are sprayed with insecticide.
Bees are often killed, or their wings and legs torn off, by haphazard handling.

To produce a pound of honey, bees must get pollen from 2 million flowers and
must fly more than 55,000 miles.(7) Honeybees returning to the hive from a pollen-
seeking expedition "dance" in figure eights to "map out" a route for other bees to
follow. These dances "encode information about the distance and direction of a
target that can be miles away from the nest," said Thomas D. Seeley of Cornell

According to the Cook-DuPage Beekeepers' Association, humans have been
using honey since about 15,000 B.C., but it wasn't until the 20th century that
people turned bees into factory-farmed animals. In 1987, the honey "crop" netted
$115.4 million.(9) Luckily, many sweeteners are made without killing bees: Rice
syrup, molasses, sorghum, barley malt, maple syrup, and dried fruit or fruit
concentrates can replace honey in recipes.(10) Use these substitutes to keep
your diet bee-free.


1."And a Cow Jumped Over the Moon," The Animals' Voice, February 1989, p. 56.
2.Kamm, Henry, "No Bed of Feathers for a Goose in Hungary," The New York
Times, June 2, 1988. 3.Ibid. 4.Pearson, Marcia, "Down," The Compassionate
Shopper, Winter 1987-88. 5.Schneider, Al, "Down-Filled Clothing vs. Synthetics,"
Letters, The Washington Post Health Section, Jan. 16, 1990. 6.Ling, Arthur, "Ain't
So Sweet: The Other Side of Honey," The Vegan, Spring 1988, pp. 12-13. 7.
Spiers, Wally, Belleville News-Democrat, Sept. 11, 1988. 8.Weiss, Rick, "New
Dancer in the Hive," Science News, Oct. 28, 1989, p. 282. 9.Spiers, op. cit.
10.Moran, Victoria, "Leaving the Land of Milk and Honey," The Animals' Agenda,
March 1988, p. 48.

Source: PeTA

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