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USDA ceases experiments on kittens for food safety research at Maryland laboratory

Posted at 2:11 AM, Apr 03, 2019

The United States Department of Agriculture has announced it will end all experiments on kittens at its Maryland laboratory after a bipartisan bill filed last month described the practice as "taxpayer-funded kitten slaughter."

The kittens were being used for toxoplasmosis research, which will now be redirected, according to a statement from the USDA. Toxoplasmosis is "considered to be a leading cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the U.S," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, an administrator for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, said in a statement that food safety research "is of paramount importance for agriculture and the public we serve." Toxoplasmosis research is being redirected to other food safety research of high priority for agriculture, Jacobs-Young said.

"We are continually assessing our research and priorities and aligning our resources to the problems of highest national priority," Jacobs-Young said. "We are excited for the next chapter of work for these scientists and this laboratory."

Last month, a bipartisan bill seeking to stop the experiments, called the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act — or KITTEN Act — aimed to stop the practice of killing kittens after they were used in testing.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate estimated that the USDA has spent $650,000 of taxpayer dollars since 1970 to infect kittens with parasite-infected raw meat and then later kill them.

The USDA would breed up to 100 kittens per year and begin infecting them when they were 2 months old, according to the bill. But the USDA told Congress last year that that number is exaggerated, stating that 2,998 kittens have been used for research since 1982.

The USDA told ABC News last month that it did not seek adoptions for the infected cats because of the potential risks they could pose to their adoptive families.

"We will always place public safety first," a USDA Agricultural Service spokesperson said.

But, the CDC, American Veterinary Medical Association and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges all state that the disease is treatable and the kittens could be safely adopted by families as pets.

The remaining 14 cats, which were not infected with the T. gondii parasite, will be adopted by USDA employees, according to the announcement.

"USDA remains committed to its mission of finding scientific solutions for the nation's most critical agricultural problems with the strictest adherence to ethical standards," the statement read.