Lawmakers propose bill to end fed agency's deadly experiments on kittens

Lawmakers propose bill to end fed agency's deadly experiments on kittens
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is proposing a bill to end the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) practice of conducting deadly experiments on kittens. 

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump turns to lawmakers to advise on reopening Trump taps members of Congress to advise on reopening Lawmakers cry foul as Trump considers retreating from Open Skies Treaty MORE (D-Calif.) and Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastHouse Republicans push back against proxy voting GOP lawmakers consider returning to DC despite coronavirus shutdown GOP congressman gets round of applause for remarks praising American strength MORE (R-Fla.), has been championed by the watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, which has run advertisements against such experiments in Maryland.

Reps. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinOvernight Defense: Trump's move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd's death 'a national tragedy' Democrats blast Trump's use of military against protests Gun control group rolls out House endorsements MORE (D-Mich.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen GOP Rep. Will Hurd marches with protesters in Houston MORE (R-Texas) also signed on to the legislation, dubbed the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act of 2019, or KITTEN Act. Sen. Jeff Merkely (D-Ore.) introduced companion legislation in the senate Thursday.

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“Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) performs parasite-related experiments on cats and kittens. This taxpayer-funded testing results in hundreds of kittens bred, fed parasite-infected raw meat, and then killed annually,” Panetta said in a statement.

The agency has reportedly conducted tests in which kittens are bred and infected with a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis, a certain form of foodborne illness. Scientists then harvest the parasites from the kittens’ stools before euthanizing and incinerating them, according to NBC News.

“This common sense, bipartisan bill will require the USDA to adhere to the same animal welfare standards that the department is charged to uphold," he added. "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.” 

Animal rights advocacy groups have claimed that 100 cats annually are killed in USDA experiments, though the agency disputes those figures.

The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. A USDA administrator told Congress last year that 2,988 cats have been used "research efforts" since 1982.

The agency has defended its research in the past as “life-saving,” though the American Veterinary Medical Association has said that interacting with cats who have had the parasite is “unlikely to pose a risk” for humans. 

The USDA announced last year it is seeking alternatives to cats for its testing. 

The Centers for Disease Control says that while over 40 million Americans carry toxoplasmosis without showing symptoms, it could have “severe consequences” for people who are pregnant or have weakened immune systems.