Government Agrees to Stop Feeding Research Kittens Parasite-Infected Meat, Other Kittens

The Agricultural Research Service announced that it would no longer be using cats for research purposes.


Esin Deniz/

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.

NEXT: Waco Biker Prosecutions Over After Nearly Four Years; All Remaining Charges Dropped

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I can’t wait for the Netflix doc.

  2. So what was the purpose of creating cannibal cats?

    I see news items every so often highlighting ridiculous amounts of money being spent on ridiculous research – just recently it was the “shrimp on a treadmill” boondoggle – that you can’t actually judge the ridiculousity of unless you know what the hell it is they’re researching.

    And despite what so many idiots assert, no, you can’t just use “computer modeling” to do basic research, the computer simulations are only going to be as accurate as the information you’re plugging into it and if that information is the information you’re seeking you’re basically plugging a power strip into itself and thinking you’re going to get power that way.

    1. They were buying foreign animals to jack up the trade deficit while they jacked with Trump and the public simultaneously.

      Jack, jack, jack, but they weren’t nimble enough.

  3. So if doing research on kittens, including euthanizing them is evil (the author’s word, not mine), then I assume he is a complete vegan? Or is because kittens are cute and fluffy?

    I get broken hearted when I hear about dogs that are eaten or killed in shelters. And frankly, I might seriously injure someone who harmed one of my dogs. Hell I get pissed when I hear about some yahoo hunting bears (I don’t mean because there is one in a neighborhood, but just going into wilderness and hunting them).

    But, it isn’t an issue of evil.

    1. Context is important here. Euthanizing a bunch of animals at taxpayer expense, especially when such euthanasia is completely unnecessary (these are kittens, not monkeys; surely they can be adopted out) is at the very least distasteful. As a pet owner, I consider the willful destruction of pets evil.

      The government was intentionally and systematically infecting animals with a virus, then destroying those animals. The purpose of that is unclear, but it stretches imagination there is an argument that infecting and killing animals is the proper role of government. And they were doing it with taxpayer money. That is evil.

  4. You gotta be kitten me.


      Cat’s In The Kettle At The Peking Moon “Orignal Version”

      1. Are you feline okay?

        1. Felines… Nothing more than felines…

          Trying to forget my felines of love…

          Morris Albert (Purr-us Feline-Butt?)
          Feelings, nothing more than feelings,
          Trying to forget my feelings of love.
          Teardrops rolling down on my face,
          Trying to forget my feelings of love.
          Feelings, for all my life I’ll feel it.
          I wish I’ve never met you, girl; you’ll never come again.
          Feelings, wo-o-o feelings,
          Wo-o-o, feel you again in my arms.

      1. Who let these cats out of the bag anyway!?!?!

        (Shoulda been kept a Government Almighty SECRET, dammit!!!!)

      2. That was purr-fect, Fist.

    2. Usually when I hear about people killing kittens I think of something completely different….

  5. “The parasite is easily treated in both humans and cats, and most people who become infected with toxoplasma do not require treatment.”

    So one way to interpret this is, precautionary principle… Above quote shows common sense. But, precautionary principle says 1 in 12 trillion kittens might resist or thwart the treatment, and the booger cooties (which are already out there already) might escape!!! Oh Noes!!! So because we can not absolutely PROVE that NO fluffy bunnies, in this universe or any other, will EVER be hurt, by NOT killing all these kittens, we have to kill all the kittens!!!

    No asshole bureaucrat EVER got fired for following the stupid rules to be an asshole… But if they break the stupid rules, and 1 out of 12 trillion fluffy-bunny deaths can be traced to said asshole bureaucrat… Said asshole bureaucrat MIGHT lose his cushy job! So they will keep right on being asshole bureaucrats, till they day the kittens rise up, and chew their eyeballs out!

  6. the department had also been purchasing cats and dogs from overseas that were then butchered and fed to homebred research kitties

    I’m guessing this was some ultrasecret DoD plan to develop a new weapon. You get cats used to eating foreigners then unleash them on the world.

    1. Fuck that. They would likely just eat all of us.

      1. They will, once we genetically modify them to have opposable thumbs.

        1. I C wut U did there…

    2. I’m guessing this was some ultrasecret DoD plan to develop a new weapon.

      Just like infecting ferrets with H5N1 and then rubbing their noses together to breed a super flu, find the most effective/aggressive mood-altering strain of toxoplasma, grind it up and feed it selectively to progressive generations of kittens and you could, conceivably, wind up with a strain of toxoplasma that’s, from a largely clinical perspective, indistinguishable from the endmic strains except that it makes people even nuttier.

  7. good. cats are awesome.

  8. Why do cosmotarians hate cat-science?

    1. Once chickens get their T-rex arms back, you are in trouble, boooy.

      1. Those puny little t rex arms are now their tasty tasty wings. There has never been a hexapod vertebrate, bats may still have arms but except for one claw they are also wings. Basically you get wings or claws/paws that can then develop as a thumb, in our lineages you don’t get both.

  9. They should use rats. Nobody gives a crap about what happens to rats.

    1. The problem is rats aren’t the definitive host for the parasite, cats are. It would be like using cows to test for dog roundworms; it would kinda work because they’re both mammals, but you’d get hinky data that you couldn’t completely trust.

      1. it would kinda work because they’re both mammals,

        Just do all your doses in grams per ton live weight and you’ll be fine.

  10. The parasite is easily treated in both humans and cats, and most people who become infected with toxoplasma do not require treatment.

    Not to defend the government’s wholly justified and wanton slaughter of cats but, as per the norm here at Reason, this is a bit misleading. It’s (seemingly) harmless to cats through the entire life cycle and, therefore, cats act as carriers. The parasite is potentially deadly and virtually to humans, or pre-human cell masses, in utero. I wouldn’t put words in Ron Bailey’s mouth but eradicating cats to minimize the risk would be a difference in degree rather than kind with regard to some of his other stances.

    More importantly, while the disease is easily treated, it’s not easily diagnosed and does have some potentially deleterious side effects such as slightly elevated aggression and slightly inhibited problem solving or cognitive abilities. Not the sort of thing that would turn Einstein into a blathering idiot, but certainly the sort of thing that might make an entire populace more aggressive and susceptible to messaging (if the DOD were into that sort of thing).

    In any event, the whole thing is ridiculous as we’re talking about something like 6-7 cats per month. Which has got to be like 1:100th the total volume of every municipally run animal control shelter across the country. And animal control doesn’t even operate under the auspices of mining for valuable data.

    1. Don’t you get all science-y on us; we’re saving cute animals here.

      1. we’re saving cute animals here.

        Every time I shoot a cat I save it from itself.

    2. It’s probably a LOT worse than that actually……..-study-yet

      Mind-Altering Cat Parasite Linked to Schizophrenia in Largest Study Yet

      1. what they tell you so you’ll hate cats.

        1. Shit! You caught on to the Ailurophobe Agenda. Now we’ll have to come up with some other objective reason for people to disapprove of a voluntary behavior pattern that spreads disease.

          1. >>>voluntary behavior pattern that spreads disease

            humankind. heh

    3. My wife, who is of Lebanese descent, was raised eating raw kibee (ground lamb). I’ve been eating it myself for well over 30 years. Everyone in her very large (Catholic) family who has been tested has toxoplasmosis but none have had any symptoms. You are correct that a new infection can be fatal to an unborn child so pregnant women should not take chances with cats or raw meat. But the dormant parasite is usually harmless.

      1. Everyone in her very large (Catholic) family who has been tested has toxoplasmosis but none have had any symptoms.

        Read the research. The symptoms are… unconventional. Physiologically, the parasite leaves spores that can/do embed in brain tissue permanently. Just like with alcohol or concussions, it’s highly unlikely that any one exposure is going to cause a psychotic break, but there’s evidence with rather obvious mechanistic support, that repeated infections gradually alter cognition. I certainly don’t mean to raise alarm, but considering that any given headache or fever could represent a relapse, it becomes easy to appreciate the actual complexity and subtlety that requires large population studies to investigate.

        Not the sort of thing that would definitively lower you or your wife’s IQ significantly over the course of your lifetime, but (and I’m reaching with the theory…) the sort of thing that would make/keep a 3rd world nation that prepared food like belligerent neanderthals behaving like belligerent neanderthals.

        1. Lebanese are the least beligerant neandertals in their entire region, all Arabs know of the Lebanese love of raw kibbeh but the only people who make it are Lebanese or Syrians. Iraqis, Egyptians, etc… all cook it first. So if it has any effect on barbarism it is the other way than you hypothesize.

          1. So if it has any effect on barbarism it is the other way than you hypothesize.

            You’re extrapolating what I clearly stated was extended hypothetical reach to undeniable fact of statistical certainty and then refuted it with anecdote. Impressive. Obviously, there are many, many factors that go into a population being belligerent. Below that there are many, many factors that go into how many times citizens of a nation eat raw meat (and whether the meat is actually contaminated below that) in any given day.

            My point is/was that it’s more like a ‘lead in drinking water’ situation where, you won’t notice effects with any given dose or even short bouts of contamination and, as an individual, may never experience symptoms. I’m not recommending policy one way or the other, just noting that the effect is present and seems fairly stable/reproducible.

      2. Kibbe is awesome, my Mom grew up on it, my crushed immune system denies it to me now but I miss it more than oysters, sashimi, or having minor cuts heal in less than a week.

        1. Btw, Remy has a song about kibbe based on call me maybe. You can find it on youtube

    4. I’m actually curious what the fuck they were researching, and if it held enough scientific value to justify their continued existence as a program. They’ve been doing this exact form of research since 1982 and have been doing the cannibalism research since 2003. What exactly is there left for them to figure out at this point that is actually in any way significant?

      1. Yeah that is the biggest problem with this. Everyone just sees ‘kittens’ but wtf these ‘scientists’ have been unsuccessfully studying some bullshit for their entire careers with no end in sight. Only in government…

  11. Does anyone want to adopt a cat that has been fed parasite-infected meat?

  12. “…because of the grizzly nature of the USDA’s work….”

    Grizzly: a large aggressive North American subspecies of Ursus arctos, named as such because of its silver or gray fur, giving it a grizzled appearance.

    Grisly: causing horror or disgust.

    You’re welcome. Now don’t do it again.

    1. And why the hell is Britches doing this story? Isn’t Bailey the Science Guy around here?

    2. Now don’t do it again.

      Hahaha. Good one.

    3. Welcome to Reason, the least intellectual intellectual magazine. Editorial standards are so low they go under rather than over.

  13. “…sponsor of the senate’s KITTEN Act,…”

    Dunno about the cats, but the guy who named this has to be removed from the living.

  14. the department’s practice of feeding kittens parasite-infected meat and/or other kittens before unnecessarily euthanizing them was inhumane.

    Well duh it was inhumane. That’s why they’ve been using cats instead

  15. ” it’s nice to know that the federal government got a little less evil today.” Any chance they could stop droning wedding parties in Yemen?

  16. Infection with T. gondii has been shown to alter the behavior of mice and rats in ways thought to increase the rodents’ chances of being preyed upon by cats.[125][126][127] Infected rodents show a reduction in their innate aversion to cat odors; while uninfected mice and rats will generally avoid areas marked with cat urine or with cat body odor, this avoidance is reduced or eliminated in infected animals.[125][127][128] Moreover, some evidence suggests this loss of aversion may be specific to feline odors: when given a choice between two predator odors (cat or mink), infected rodents show a significantly stronger preference to cat odors than do uninfected controls.[129][130]

    In rodents, T. gondii?induced behavioral changes occur through epigenetic remodeling in neurons associated with observed behaviors;[131][132] for example, it modifies epigenetic methylation to induce hypomethylation of arginine vasopressin-related genes in the medial amygdala to greatly decrease predator aversion.[131][132] Similar epigenetically-induced behavioral changes have also been observed in mouse models of addiction, where changes in the expression of histone-modifying enzymes via gene knockout or enzyme inhibition in specific neurons produced alterations in drug-related behaviors.[133][134][135] Widespread histone?lysine acetylation in cortical astrocytes appears to be another epigenetic mechanism employed by T. gondii.[136][137]

    1. Yeah, the parasite “remodels neurons” and can make mice attracted to cats. The parasite needs to be eaten by cats, sort of like the life cycle of flukes that need both deer and sheep. Anyway, yeah, cats carry a parasite that affects both mice and people and may make us . . . fall in love with cats.

      Sounds creepy but what are the chances any one of us is infected? Well, about 50% of people around the world are infected by the parasite. Americans have tested at lower rates, I’ve seen it suggested that about one in four American may be infected. People’s weird obsessions with cat photos suggests to me that the number may be higher.

      I’ve heard of other bio-toxins that impact people like this. There’s a jellyfish that’s the scourge of Australian surfers. The sting is supposed to be the most painful experience a person can have. The first symptoms of exposure–before the pain starts–include a feeling of impending doom. The victim starts feeling like life just isn’t worth living anymore. It’s thought that the purpose may be to make the jellyfish’s prey stop struggling–and it just affects humans in more or less the same way.

  17. Bureaucratic killers to be reassigned to Department of Fake Nutritional Health Guidelines.


  19. I am getting $100 to $130 consistently by wearing down facebook. i was jobless 2 years earlier , however now i have a really extraordinary occupation with which i make my own specific pay and that is adequate for me to meet my expences. I am really appreciative to God and my director. In case you have to make your life straightforward with this pay like me , you just mark on facebook and Click on big button thank you?

    c?h?e?c?k t?h?i?s l?i?n-k >>>>>>>>>>

  20. I’m often amazed there aren’t a lot more anarchists out there.

    Whoever worked for, funded, or backed this agency should be covered with hot tar and feathers (or swept up cat hair). The agency should also be immediately disbanded and the freed up funds put toward the 21 trillion dollar debt. “Nothing left to cut” indeed!

    1. ^^^ esta!

  21. “…grizzly nature of the USDA’s work…”

    No editors? Grizzly: 1) Showing characteristics of age. 2) A kind of bear.

    The word is “grisly.”

  22. This article gives no indication of the purpose of the testing.

  23. CNN report:

    >In response to a CNN inquiry, a spokesperson for the Agricultural Research Service said that the estimate of 100 cats used in USDA research was a “serious over estimation” and called cats “essential to the success of this critical research.”

    >”The Agricultural Research Service-USDA (ARS) makes every effort to minimize the number of cats used to produce eggs required to research one of the most widespread parasites in the world. The cats are essential to the success of this critical research,” the spokesperson said.

  24. What was reported by CNN (quoted above) is or is not true. We have to distinguish the separate issues involved. Government shouldn’t be involved in scientific research to begin with. But what the “animal rights” groups want to do is shut down all experimentation on animals, whether or not the research might benefit human beings. Experimentation on animals is not “evil.”

  25. “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.”

    Has the ARS ended all research only in its facilities or will this kind of cruelty
    be carried out inside of privately-owned and operated facilities, actions of which
    are sanctioned by the USDA? Has WCW investigated this issue, and are its findings
    consistent with what are presumably the final determination as put forth by the USDA?

  26. Grisly not grizzly.

  27. Yes, there has never been a hexapod vertebrate, bats may still have arms but except for one claw they are also wings…

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.