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 PanettaOvernight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei MORE (D-Calif.) and Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastThe 9 House Republicans who support background checks Two cats visit Capitol Hill to thank lawmakers who helped end 'kitten slaughterhouse' Buzz Aldrin marks launch of Apollo 11 mission to the moon 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 SlotkinHere are the Democrats who aren't co-sponsoring an assault weapons ban Looking for electability in all the wrong places Mueller report fades from political conversation MORE (D-Mich.) and Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdGOP struggles with retirement wave Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Pelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House 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.