Recent developments in standardisation for feather and down

Feather and down are both soft and excellent at trapping heat; thus, they are sometimes used in high-class bedding, especially pillows, blankets, and mattresses.

Feather and down are also used as filling for winter clothing and outdoor bedding, such as quilted coats and sleep bags.

The difference between down and feather

Feathers come in two types: flight feathers and body feathers. Flight feathers are found on the wings and tails of birds. They are larger and have a large shaft running through the middle. These feathers are usually chopped up and used in lower quality bedding. Body feathers are found all over the body. These shafts are softer and have a curve, which makes them more suitable for bedding.

Down is the undercoating of waterfowl (goose, duck or swan) and consists of light, fluffy filaments growing from a central quill point, thereby creating a three dimensional structure which traps air and gives down insulating ability.

Some 80 percent of the world's supply of down and feathers used in clothing and bedding comes from China. Other important producers are Poland and Hungary.

Controversy over plucking methods

There are three methods used to remove down and body feathers: post mortem, gathering and live plucking.

In the first case, feathers are removed from the birds’ bodies after they are killed for their meat and/or internal organs (foie gras). Gathering means removing feathers that are ripe due to the phenomenon of molting and would refer to using a brushing or combing action to remove feathers or down which are ready to fall out. Live plucking, whereby the feathers are torn from the skin of the bird, can cause serious injuries. It is fiercely condemned by animal rights organisations.

As consumers become increasingly aware of this issue, some companies are starting to join initiatives such as the ‘Responsible Down Standard’ (RDS), to ensure that down or feathers are sourced from responsibly treated geese, ducks or other waterfowl, and that the material is tracked through the supply chain.

Recent developments in standardisation for feather and down

Over the past years different European standards were published, dealing with aspects such as terminology (NBN EN 1885), composition labelling (NBN EN 12934), determination of the mass of the filled product and of the filling (NBN EN 13088) etc. They make sure that feather and down products placed on the market meet quality standards and that labels provide correct information to the consumer.

Because of changes in the quality of feather and down and in the plucking procedures, there is a need to revise the current European standards. On 5 January 2015, the German Standards Committee (DIN) proposed the creation of a new European Project Committee to undertake this revision. If you are interested in participating in this new Project Committee, please contact us.

Standards are present in our everyday lives to guard the quality of the products we use. The feather and down we use in bedding and clothing to keep us warm in winter, is another fine example.