Scientific Opinion on the practice of harvesting (collecting) feathers from live geese for down production
The Scientific Opinion on the practice of collecting feathers from live geese for down production concluded that removing feathers from live geese can be carried without causing pain, suffering or injury to the birds, if feathers are gathered. Gathering feathers from live geese is defined as removing feathers that are ripe due to the phenomenon of moulting and would never result in tissue damage. Plucking is the forcible removal of feathers that results in bleeding follicles and possibly other skin damage such as tears and bruising. The possibility that feathers are plucked cannot be excluded and it seems that at least minor suffering from pain and injuries is unavoidable under current commercial conditions. The process of catching, carrying and restraining the bird is the same whether feathers are gathered or plucked. Incorrect handling can include carrying the bird by the neck, legs or by one wing, restraining by sitting on the neck of the bird and throwing or dropping the bird. Bloody feathers, skin injuries, posture changes (e.g. hanging wings), dead birds and broken or dislocated bones are welfare-outcome indicators which could be used to assess the welfare of geese submitted to feather collection. It is recommended that only ripe feathers should be removed from live geese. A control system should be in place to ensure this is carried out in practice. The presence of skin tears and blood or tissue and the presence of non-ripe feathers in the collected feather material should be used to distinguish between plucking and gathering. Operators should be aware of good animal handling methods and the differentiation between ripe and unripe feathers. Further studies should be encouraged to improve the validity and reliability of welfare-outcome indicators. The method to evaluate the maturity of the feathers should be validated and further developed.