Following the outcry over a disturbing government research practice that resulted in what critics have described as kitten slaughter, a research agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it will no longer conduct the deadly testing as part of its research.
The practice in question was part of testing that’s related to toxoplasmosis research and involved feeding kittens parasite-infected raw meat before subsequently euthanizing and incinerating them. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) announced Tuesday the controversial research had “reached its maturity” and added that further research on toxoplasmosis and its effects on humans would be “redirected.”
“Food safety research in ARS is of paramount importance for agriculture and the public we serve,” ARS Administrator Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young said in a statement. “We are continually assessing our research and priorities and aligning our resources to the problems of highest national priority.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that toxoplasmosis, which is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, is among the leading causes of death by foodborne illnesses in the U.S., specifically in people with weakened immune systems.
The ARS said that the decision comes following “feedback of our customers and stakeholders” as well as internal and external reviews that began last year. The agency said that while more research is needed on toxoplasmosis, that research falls outside of the USDA’s purview.
Jeff Merkley, a Democratic senator from Oregon, who with Representative Jimmy Panetta introduced the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act last month, said in a statement Tuesday that the USDA had “made the right decision” by ending the controversial practice.
“The USDA’s decision to slaughter kittens after they were used in research was an archaic practice and horrific treatment, and it’s past time to end it,” Merkley said. “The USDA made the right decision today, and I applaud them for their willingness to change course. It’s a good day for our four-legged friends across America.”
NBC News noted the announcement comes just weeks after a report from the White Coat Waste Project, an animal welfare nonprofit with a focus on government spending, raised concerns about gruesome USDA animal testing thought to have been conducted between 2003 and 2014. The report claimed experiments involved purchasing dog and cat meat from markets in Asia and then feeding that meat to cats in their labs in Maryland.
The White Coat Waste Project raised concerns about the experiments, claiming that the meat was “abnormal” for the animals’ normal diets and was therefore “irrelevant to natural toxoplasmosis biology,” according to NBC News, which obtained a copy of the report. Some of the experiments reportedly included feeding tissue from cat hearts, tongues, and brains to lab cats in the U.S.
“Cannibal cats, cats eating dogs — I don’t see the logic,” Jim Keen, a former scientist with the USDA who was involved with the report, told NBC News last month.
According to the ARS, no cats have been infected or euthanized since September. The agency added that the USDA is currently working to adopt out more than a dozen uninfected cats with employees of the department.