The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that it will end its practice of killing thousands of kittens after forcing them to eat parasites.
What were they doing?
The USDA has admitted to infecting kittens with the Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) parasite, which it would then harvest from their feces. These cats were then euthanized when it was determined that they could no longer be useful for this purpose. This practice reportedly has gone on for decades.
Additionally, the USDA fed kittens cat and dog meat.
The department defended the practice, saying that it helped "cut the prevalence of T. gondii by as much as 50 percent in the United States." This parasite, it said, "causes toxoplasmosis, a disease considered to be a leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States, especially for individuals with weak immune systems such as children and HIV patients."
In early 2018, the activist group White Coat Waste Project revealed the practice after receiving confirmation through FOIA requests. Justin Goodman, the vice president of the group, told NPR that he estimated that 3,000 cats had been infected, then killed in this process.
Naturally, when these experiments, which were conducted at a laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, were discovered by the public it led to outcry. In May of 2018, the House introduced the Kitten Act to "prohibit the Department of Agriculture from using cats in experiments that may cause pain or stress, unless the pain or stress is a result of a physical exam or training program."
Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate in December, then again in the Senate and the House in March.
What happened now?
But before these bills could become law, the USDA announced that it was ending these experiments on its own. According to a news release from Wednesday,
In May 2018, after hearing the feedback of our customers and stakeholders, USDA took several actions, including commissioning external and internal scientific reviews that assessed the agency's involvement in this research area and the feasibility of adoption for cats used in the research. Additionally, no cats have been infected with toxoplasmosis pathogens or euthanized since September 2018.
The remaining 14 cats in custody, who had not yet been infected with the parasite, are being adopted out to USDA employees.
Most importantly, the USDA said that the "[u]se of cats as part of any research protocol in any laboratory in ARS [the USDA's Agricultural Research Service] has been discontinued and will not be reinstated."