Bi-partisan bill written to end Dept of Agriculture kitten testing

If you’re a cat lover like I am, this story is a bit disturbing. I had no idea that so many kittens were tested each year for toxoplasmosis and then killed because they are deemed unadoptable. It’s 100 kittens, to be specific and they are forced to eat toxoplasma- infected raw meat by the Department of Agriculture. After their part in the experiment is complete, the little felines are killed. This from Roll Call:

For the past 50 years, the Department of Agriculture has been forcing 100 kittens each year to eat toxoplasma-infected raw meat to test their stool, according to Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Bishop.

The parasite causes toxoplasmosis and is found only in cat feces, putting the brunt of these experiments on kittens. They are needed to breed the parasite, which is then studied, according to a report by watchdog group the White Coat Waste Project. Researchers later kill the kittens because they are deemed unfit for adoption given the potential health hazards they could cause owners, according to a USDA Agricultural Research Service spokesperson.

Rep. Bishop said that 100,000 constituents wrote letters to lawmakers demanding action after the findings of White Coat Waste Project became known. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the experimentation documentation was revealed in May. So, Bishop and a California Democrat, a House Agriculture Committee member,  co-sponsored a bill to end the practice. The bill is called KITTEN –  Kittens In Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act.

“You spoke up, so we are stepping up,” said Bishop, who recently co-sponsored the KITTEN (Kittens In Traumatic Testing Ends Now) Act along with House Agriculture Committee member Jimmy Panetta, a California Democrat. The bill demands the secretary of Agriculture end experimentation on cats that cause pain or distress.

The co-authors voiced concerns aligned with political beliefs. Bishop spoke about the need for government spending to be used wisely and as taxpayers want while Panetta called for the USDA to be mindful of eliminating pain in experiments using animals. Both call for more transparency and oversight.

The annual cost of the program is $624,000. The Agriculture Research Project defended the experimentation at a facility in Maryland. It claims over the course of the last 36 years, $22.5M has been spent and “a few dozen cats a year” are used.

The ARS says its “life-saving” research is important to both human health and food safety, credited with helping to cut the prevalence of the common parasite that causes the disease toxoplasmosis by as much as 50 percent in the United States and Europe.

Bishop says he has begun the process to defund the project and wants the ability to eliminate any spending that is questionable. He also doesn’t want other animals subjected to such treatment.

Government records indicate that kittens bred at the government lab in Beltsville, Maryland, are fed parasite-infected raw meat for two to three weeks to collect parasites from their feces, then euthanized and discarded by incineration.

Bishop is concerned that other animals might be subjected to similar treatment and is asking the Agriculture Department for more information.

“We need to drill down and ask more specific questions,” he said. “I find it all very disturbing and want to make sure we know all that’s going on.”

I think that’s reasonable. Transparency and oversight is the job of Congress, after all. It’s not too much to ask that they do their job. Kittens present a cute face to that argument.