Taxpayer-funded kitten slaughter to end, USDA says

April 9, 2019
dvm360 Staff
dvm360, dvm360 May 2019, Volume 50, Issue 5

Controversial government research has come to a grinding halt, thanks to a watchdog group.

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced this week that it has “redirected” its research on toxoplasmosis and will no longer use cats for experimental purposes in any ARS laboratory.

The ARS toxoplasmosis research, ongoing since 1982, has yielded excellent results, according to the organization's press release: Toxoplasma gondii prevalence has been cut in half in the United States. Cats are the only host in which T. gondii can complete its life cycle and produce eggs, hence the use of kittens in this research. After the cats were intentionally infected and the parasites harvested, the animals were euthanized.

The ARS experiments were the subject of public outcry last year after a media blitz by the White Coat Waste Project (WCW), whose mission is to “stop taxpayer-funded animal experiments,” but the research came a screeching halt following a scathing report released by the group last month. The report stated that nearly 4,000 kittens had been destroyed over the course of the ARS research and that the experimental animals were fed cat and dog meat from overseas in an effort to evaluate the prevalence of T. gondii in other parts of the world. What's more, the research cost American taxpayers about $650,000 per year, the report indicated.

WCW's findings brought widespread attention to the research and prompted bipartisan legislation-the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act-to ban animal testing by the USDA.

“While I strongly support scientific research, taxpayer money and federal resources should be spent on advancing scientific research in an ethical manner, not on inflicting pain on kittens or killing them after they are used in agency testing,” U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-California), who cosponsored the bill, said in a March press release. 

Panetta lauded the decision to cease kitten experiments. “I commend the USDA for their decision to end this type of testing on kittens,” he said on Twitter. “They listened to the people and responded appropriately to our concerns. This is how our institutions, our government, and our democracy should and must work.”

According to the ARS press release, its lab stopped using research kittens in September 2018. The remaining 14 uninfected kittens at the facility are now available for adoption by employees.

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