The USDA will no longer perform testing on cats and has put their remaining 14 kittens up for adoption.
In an announcement on April 2nd, the United States Department of Agriculture stated they will no longer perform tests or procedures researching toxoplasmosis on cats.
"Toxoplasmosis research has been redirected and the use of cats as part of any research protocol in any ARS [Agricultural Research Service] laboratory has been discontinued and will not be reinstated,” the agency wrote in a statement.
Previously, the department used cats for research on toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). The parasite (technically a eukaryote, a type of single-celled creature) is the leading cause of foodborne deaths, especially to the elderly and the immunocompromised.
The move comes following a report last March that painted a dark picture of the USDA. Titled “Kitten Cannibalism,” the report accused the USDA of forcing lab cats to consume cat meat obtained from overseas.
The report was sensationalist but had an element of truth to it. According to NPR News, the USDA had been feeding their cats cat meat in order to study the prevalence of T. gondii in the food chain. Once infected, the T. gondii would complete their life cycle by breeding and laying eggs. Researchers then harvested those eggs to use in further experiments, while the cats themselves were later euthanized.
In the report, it’s estimated that 3,000 cats were exterminated over the course of the USDA’s toxoplasmosis research. The USDA responded to say it was actually 239 cats killed from 2013 to 2018.
Public sentiment quickly turned against the USDA, which decided to end testing on cats and put the remaining cats up for adoption. Fourteen cats remain at the USDA that have no been infected with T. gondii, which the agency said will be adopted out to various employees. Any remaining cats will be put up for adoption after agency employees get first dibs.