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USDA ends controversial program that infected, killed cats

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Tuesday that it will end a controversial research program in which scientists infected cats with a disease and later killed them.

The department’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) said in a statement that its toxoplasmosis research “has been redirected and the use of cats as part of any research protocol in any ARS laboratory has been discontinued and will not be reinstated.”

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For decades, the research division had been infecting kittens and cats with toxoplasmosis — a disease that is typically caused by eating undercooked contaminated meat — in an effort to study the food-borne illness. 

After cats were infected by the disease, which is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, the animals were put down.

According to the USDA, the disease is “considered to be a leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States.”

The announcement arrives on the heels of bipartisan legislation that was introduced last month in Congress that sought to end the experiments.

Rep. Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaLawmakers want Pentagon, DOJ to punish current, former military members who participated in riot Capitol riots spark fear of Trump's military powers in final days Americans want to serve — it's up to us to give them the chance MORE (D-Calif.), who authored the House version of the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act, told CNBC that he commends the USDA for its “decision to end this type of testing on kittens.” 

“They listened to the people and responded appropriately to our concerns,” he said. “This is how our institutions, our government, and our democracy should and must work.”

The USDA added in the statement that it is in the process of putting its 14 remaining uninfected cats up for adoption by its employees in accordance with regulatory guidelines.