The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been slapped with a lawsuit after allegedly blocking information requested by the White Coat Waste Project, an animal rights group and taxpayer watchdog. The information involves experiments that have killed thousands of cats at the agency's Maryland facility over the past few decades.
Back in May, White Coat Waste Project uncovered the deadly kitten experiments the USDA has been conducting for nearly half a century at a secret laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland. Documents obtained by the group show the department has been breeding around 100 kittens a year for almost 50 years just to infect them with a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis, a disease that can lead to miscarriages and birth defects in humans and is a leading cause of death from foodborne illness.
The department collects the kittens' feces for two to three weeks and then simply euthanizes them with a shot of ketamine to the heart—even though the USDA admits, and experts on the matter appear to agree, that the cats have shed the parasite and will not transmit it to humans or other animals.
Now, White Coat Waste Project claims the department is blocking its Freedom of Information Act request for additional info on the research, including veterinary records for the almost 3,000 cats and kittens used to date. The group filed the request in June and says it has yet to hear back. The department, it says, is violating the Freedom of Information Act "by failing to provide the materials, or even acknowledge the request," and is continuing to "wrongfully withhold the requested records."
"Uncle Sam essentially kept this project a secret for half-a-century," says Anthony Bellotti, founder and president of White Coat Waste Project, "but now the cat is out of the bag, and we won't let the USDA go dark on Americans again."
In an unsigned email sent to The Washington Post, the USDA's press office says it "cannot comment on pending litigation."
In the meantime, the department has come under fire for its refusal to adopt out the cats and kittens used for the experiments. Members of Congress have also introduced bipartisan legislation, the KITTEN Act, to put an end to these deadly tests by defunding them, as well as the FACT Act, which aims to improve reporting by various government agencies on efforts being taken to replace animal tests with faster, less expensive, and more effective alternative tests.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has unanimously passed its 2019 agriculture spending bill, which includes language urging the USDA to end its kitten experiments and to adopt out the cats. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who introduced the FACT Act, is also leading a new bipartisan effort to obtain more information about USDA's kitten testing and to secure adoptions for the kittens.
"Taxpayers deserve to know what kinds of federally funded lab experiments animals are subjected to and are being paid for at taxpayer expense," Calvert tells Reason.