The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided to stop conducting research on cats in response to concerns that the department's practice of feeding kittens parasite-infected meat and/or other kittens before unnecessarily euthanizing them was inhumane.
Back in May 2018, the White Coat Waste (WCW) Project—an anti-animal testing group—revealed that the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) had been feeding parasite-infected meat to young kittens as a way of incubating the parasite Toxoplasma. The parasite was then harvested from the kittens' feces, after which the little guys were euthanized with a lethal dose of ketamine injected into their hearts.
This practice reportedly dates back to 1982, and has cost the lives of about 3,000 kittens, according to the WCW.
That revelation sparked outrage, both because of the grizzly nature of the USDA's work, as well as the fact that the euthanasia was likely unnecessary. Critics argued that the Toxoplasma-infected kitties only posed a risk to humans for up to three weeks after the animal was first infected. The parasite is easily treated in both humans and cats, and most people who become infected with toxoplasma do not require treatment.
The reputation of the USDA suffered another black eye when it was revealed (again as a result of a WCW investigation) that the department had also been purchasing cats and dogs from overseas that were then butchered and fed to homebred research kitties. This practice of "kitten cannibalism" took place from 2003 to 2015, and resulted in some 400 dogs and 100 cats being fed to cats held at an ARS laboratory in Maryland.
Two bills—both called the Kittens In Traumatic Testing Ends Now (or KITTEN) Act—were introduced in the House and Senate last year to end any USDA testing on cats. The proposed legislation is effectively made moot by the USDA's announcement on Tuesday. The department has promised to end all testing on cats in its ARS facilities, and put the 14 felines currently under its care up for adoption.
"We are continually assessing our research and priorities and aligning our resources to the problems of highest national priority. We are excited for the next chapter of work for these scientists and this laboratory," said ARS Administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young in a press release.
"It's a good day for our four-legged friends across America," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D–Oregon), sponsor of the senate's KITTEN Act, telling NBC News that the USDA "made the right decision today."
Indeed, while taxpayer-sponsored kitten murder is hardly the moral issue of our time, it's nice to know that the federal government got a little less evil today.