Politics

Congressman Wants Answers To USDA’s Kitten Killing

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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A Republican congressman wants the government to explain why it is funding research that requires unnecessary breeding and slaughter of kittens.

“I’m shocked and disturbed that for decades the USDA — the very organization charged with enforcing animal welfare laws — has been unnecessarily killing hundreds of kittens in expensive and inefficient lab experiments,” Rep. Mike Bishop of Michigan said in a statement Tuesday.

Bishop wrote a letter the Department of Agriculture asking why it has been funding a series of experiments that requires infecting kittens with parasites for study, then incinerating the test animals.

The objective of the study Bishop is concerned about is to “determine the molecular basis” that allows certain parasites — Toxoplasma gondii and Hammondia hammondi — to cause disease. Researchers infect cats with the parasites through raw meat and then collect samples of cysts the parasites created.

After the experiment, the animals are often euthanized, even though Bishop says the USDA “admits the kittens are healthy at the study’s completion” and could be put up for adoption.

In a statement, the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service told The Daily Caller News Foundation that it “does not seek adoptions of these cats because of the risk the cats could pose to their adoptive families.”

The Toxoplasma gondii parasites do infect humans other than some initial to flu-like symptoms after initial infection, don’t appear to have major consequences. Some studies suggest, however, that the parasites, which between 30 and 50 percent of the global human population, do contribute to the spread of disease asymptomatically.

“Our goal is to reduce the spread of toxoplasmosis,” the government’s statement said. “Adopting laboratory cats could, unfortunately, undermine that goal, potentially causing severe infections, especially with unborn children or those with immunodeficiencies.”

USDA documents reviewed by Bishop’s office show the USDA authorized the project to use 100 kittens per year in the current project phase. The project itself has been “re-approved for decades,” Bishop said, but the authorization to experiment on kittens was issued in 2015 and is up for renewal in May 2018. Bishop asked for documentation on exactly how many animals the project has actually used, as well as how much funding the project has received.

Bishop was also concerned with how much pain the cats endure, which he says has been “significantly underreported.” Because the researchers didn’t accurately measure the amount of “pain and distress” the procedures caused the kittens, the project “underwent a less stringent review and researchers were not required to seek alternatives to reduce or replace animal use.”

The type of parasite-caused “oocysts” being studied could not be produced in any cell culture or any other animal than cats, according to the USDA, but Bishop claims other scientists have reportedly worked on technology that could replace cat use.

“Any government research program like this one that’s been funded since the Nixon administration needs to be put under the microscope, especially when it involves using kittens as disposable test tubes in harmful tests that most taxpayers oppose,” Bishop said in a statement.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to include comments from the USDA.

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