In a clash of kittens versus medical testing, the kittens are winning. For five decades, the US Department of Agriculture has been breeding and using kittens to study toxoplasmosis—a disease that is particularly dangerous in pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. The kittens are fed meat infected with a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. Researchers use the stool samples to study the parasite, and the kittens are later euthanized. The watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, which first reported the practice, estimates that hundreds of cats are killed each year as part of the project, but a government rep puts the figure at a few dozen. The kittens have found a champion in Republican Rep. Mike Bishop, reports RollCall. The Michigan congressman is co-sponsoring a bill with California Democrat Jimmy Panetta to protect the kittens.
Called “KITTEN,” for "Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now," the bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act to ban the use of cats in a way that causes suffering or distress. The Department of Agriculture’s inhouse research agency, the Agriculture Research Service, says the project provides valuable information that benefits public health and credits it with cutting by as much as one half the incidence of the parasite in the US and Europe, reports the Detroit News. The project is aimed at safeguarding contaminated water, meats, and produce, and is making “progress towards a lifesaving vaccine," an ARS rep tells Bishop in a letter. Further, says the rep, the kittens are euthanized instead of adopted out because they pose a public health risk. The group is open to changing that, "if safety considerations are met," she writes. (This man risked his life to save a kitten.)