USDA Researchers Are Killing Kittens for Science

Some entries in the annals of horrific animal experimentation are almost unbelievable, and this is one of them: A USDA-funded lab in Beltsville, Maryland has been breeding kittens for toxoplasmosis experiments, and then killing them when they’re done.

As many as 100 kittens may have been killed annually in the course of this research.

The practice came to light through the White Coat Waste Project. The watchdog group obtained USDA records through the Freedom of Information Act that show the facility has been experimenting on cats and kittens for years. As a cat lover and ardent opponent of animal testing, I find this research abhorrent on its face, but also because it appears deeply unnecessary.

The research is exploring toxoplasmosis, an infectious disease that can be transmitted through cats and kittens that spend time outdoors — they can shed eggs (oocytes, technically) in their stool which may cause problems for immunocompromised or pregnant people.

Researchers bred cats and fed the kittens spoiled meat, tracking the excretion of oocytes, and then euthanized them after several weeks. Why not make them available for adoption? The researchers said it was necessary to protect public health and safety — despite the fact that clinical toxoplasma infection in cats can be treated with antibiotics, and they will stop shedding infectious material after about two weeks since their last exposure, something that would be easy to verify in a lab. We have an excellent understanding of how toxoplasmosis works and how long cats can transmit the infection, so it’s unclear why this study was necessary in the first place, though documentation suggests researchers may be working on a vaccine.

Maryland just passed a “beagle bill” to mandate that research animals (despite the name, it applies to other species too) be offered for adoption after experiments are over, when it is safe to do so.

Michigan Representative Mike Bishop, a Republican and animal welfare advocate, has written Sonny Perdue, the Agriculture Secretary, with some questions for him, saying he was “shocked to hear that the USDA…was treating the life of animals with such contempt.” His stinging rebuke expressed concerns about how long the research has been conducted, the wasteful nature of breeding animals only to kill them, the number of kittens used, and why the cats aren’t being made available for adoption.

Rep. Bishop also noted that the project’s current authorization expires on May 31, asking whether the lab intends to re-up it, and asked about erratic recordkeeping regarding pain mitigation.

Furthermore, he asked whether the lab had considered any alternatives to living animals for this testing. Bishop is a cosponsor of the FACT Act, which is pressuring government researchers to develop alternatives to animal testing, report on their progress with this work, and more accurately account for how laboratory animals are used.

In case you’re curious, humans almost never catch toxoplasma infection from cats: Eating improperly cooked meat or unwashed vegetables is a more likely cause, and gardeners or others who grub around in the dirt can be at minor risk. If your cat doesn’t go outside, they won’t be able to acquire the infection, unless you’re feeding your cat raw meat that hasn’t been well stored or prepared.

To reduce your risk of infection, wear gloves when working in the dirt outside and wash your hands afterwards, keep sandboxes covered when not in use, wash fruits and veggies thoroughly, and don’t feed your pets raw meat. If you are immunocompromised or pregnant, you may wish to take extra caution by asking someone else to clean the litterbox — if you do need to handle cat feces, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

Take Action

Join fellow Care2 activists in asking this lab to stop killing kittens and start putting them up for adoption!

Photo credit: USDA via White Coat Waste Project

116 comments

Cindy M. Dutka
Cindy M. D4 hours ago

How low can humanity go... :(

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Antje S
Antje Syesterday

heartbreaking

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Clare O
Clare O3 days ago

Cindy s, please do not hate all people, most environmental scientists study animals in nature and avoid disturbing them.

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Clare O
Clare O3 days ago

those kittens are probably not socialised but could be neutered and given to a farm to catch rodents

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Clare O
Clare O3 days ago

a shocking situation

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Clare O
Clare O3 days ago

th

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Cindy S
Past Member 4 days ago

hate people

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bob p
bob p5 days ago

thanks

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Jessica C
Jessica C6 days ago

Thx! White Coat Waste Project is awesome!!

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Georgina M
Georgina M7 days ago

TYFS

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