Since 1982, a US government research program has resulted in thousands of cats dying. No more: The Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that its Agricultural Research Services lab will no longer use cats in its experiments. For decades, as part of its research into toxoplasmosis, ARS had been infecting kittens with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, then euthanizing them when research was complete, NBC News reports. In addition, a recent exposé found that hundreds of dogs and cats from Asian meat markets had been purchased, euthanized, and fed to healthy animals at the ARS lab in Maryland. In its Tuesday statement, the USDA said that ARS' "toxoplasmosis research has been redirected and the use of cats as part of any research protocol in any ARS laboratory has been discontinued and will not be reinstated."
Toxoplasma gondii spreads through the feces of infected cats and causes toxoplasmosis, "a disease considered to be a leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the United States," per the USDA. Its research into the disease cut the presence of the parasite by as much as 50% in the US, the statement says, explaining that cats were used in the research because they are "the only hosts in which T. gondii can complete its life cycle and produce oocysts (eggs)," which researchers would harvest from infected cats, per HuffPost. But the recent bad press, as well as legislation introduced last month that referred to the research as "taxpayer-funded kitten slaughter," led to the USDA's decision to redirect its toxoplasmosis research into other food safety areas. The remaining 14 cats will be adopted by USDA employees, ABC News reports. (Read more animal testing stories.)