Field report from Ashley Gill, Spring 2015
In the month of April, I took a trip to Hungary and Romania to shadow audits done by Control Union across different parts of the supply chain. I saw down processers, collectors, an industrial geese farm, and dozens of ducks and geese raised by individual families. Here’s a quick photo tour of my trip.
Here’s where it all starts. Sort of. These geese are all two weeks old. We are in a barn on an industrial geese farm in Hungary.
These geese have spent their whole lives together following around this man. I took this photo as he called “come geese!” They followed all around the yard, probably confident he would give them some food!
During this visit, the auditors checked the animals access to food and water, their space allowances, and that all their needs and natural behaviors were being fulfilled.
With such a large flock living together, it’s very important to prevent disease from entering the flock. Before entering the barn with the animals, we were required to step in disinfectant placed by the door.
Food is distributed all day with the barrels shown towards the middle of the photo. The bedding is changed multiple times per day, and the big lights are used to make sure the baby geese adjust to the outside temperature at as natural a pace as possible.
After the visit to the farm, we went with the owners of the farm to a nearby restaurant to do their document check. Since the farm is rather small, there isn’t an office on site with the animals (even with thousands of geese, there are less than five year round employees). During the document check, the auditors make sure that all local legislation is being met, and look through all their policies and procedures. The auditor goes through his checklist line by line, entering information and notes from the documents he reviews. This auditor does not make the final certification decision, but sends his report to a certifier in a different office who will review the report and make the certification decision. This is known as the “four eyes” principle.
After 12-16 weeks, these geese will be transported to a slaughterhouse. While what happens inside the slaughterhouse isn’t pleasant, the RDS makes sure it’s done as quickly and humanely as possible. The feather are removed and then later shipped to the next step in the chain.
But most down doesn’t come from these industrial farms; most down comes from what are known as collector-based supply chains. In these chains, the animals are mostly owned by families for their own consumption. In Hungary, most down comes from industrial farms or slaughterhouses, but in Romania it is almost all collector-based.
Almost every audit starts out just like this. Where exactly is this place? But for collector-based audits, instead of looking for an address, the auditors are looking for families with geese that sell to their collectors. Adrian (left) and Laurentieu (right) have done hours of research to find the regions of Romania where the certified collectors are buying from. They have mapped out the area, and before we start they are finding the best route to take for our 3-4 days of auditing the region.
We drive through villages and look for geese on the side of the road or in the middle of the field, and then find the owners of those geese and try and ask a few questions. Many of these villages are very remote and it’s quite obvious by the difference in transportation styles that we are “not from around here”.
In most villages, the birds spend their nights at home, inside small barns or enclosures. But during the day, they are free to roam. They spend most of their time near waterways that often run through the middle of the village.
We saw dozens of baby geese following their mother to these waterways, or playing nearby.
This couple allowed us to enter their yard and see (and take photos) their enclosures for their geese. They had about 10 animals and the small pen behind the man is where the babies stayed with their mothers before they were big enough to venture out.
The auditors ask them about how the feed and water the animal, whether they live pluck or force-feed, and if they sell feathers to collectors. This couple told us about the feed and water stored in their yard, and also said they don’t sell feathers to collectors, but usually keep the feathers for making pillows for their home. In this region of Romania, pillows made from geese feathers are a common wedding gift for a close family member.
It can be tedious work, but the auditors are working to map out the regions and the animal welfare practices that are happening in the region.