Congressman Mike Bishop is seeking answers about government-funded research he believes is “unnecessarily killing hundreds of kittens in expensive and inefficient lab experiments.”

The 8th District Republican this week sent a letter (see link below) to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue expressing concerns and seeking more information about what he called, “secretive and problematic experiments on cats and kittens being performed at a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.” The research involves feeding kittens’ parasite-infected meat in order to study toxoplasmosis, a disease that can have severe consequences for pregnant women. At the conclusion of the study, the kittens are euthanized and then incinerated.

Bishop said he was “shocked and disturbed” to learn that the USDA, “the very organization charged with enforcing animal welfare laws” had been funding the research since 1982. Bishop added that the project "uses kittens as test tubes" and while he supports the objective of making food safer and protecting people and animals from infectious diseases, he wanted to ensure taxpayer dollars are used “effectively, efficiently and humanely." He asked Secretary Perdue whether the USDA had looked into alternatives for using cats and also questioned why the kittens determined to still be healthy at the conclusion of the study weren’t made available for adoption as opposed to being destroyed.

In response, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service told CNN the cats were "essential to the success of this critical research" of “one of the most widespread parasites in the world.” Officials say because the goal of the study is to reduce toxoplasmosis, adopting out cats after going through the study would undermine that goal and could cause severe infections, especially with unborn children or those with weakened immune systems.

Congressman Bishop’s call for reforms in government research labs dates back more than a year and include a bipartisan effort that cut funding for experiments on dogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA officials at the time pushed back at the cuts, saying that shutting down the research could deny veterans “hope for new and potentially life-changing treatments.” However, an internal review is underway to determine if the studies can be reduced or duplicated without using dogs, and no new studies have been authorized in 2018. (JK)