WASHINGTON - The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is breeding kittens, feeding them bad meat, testing their stool and then euthanizing them even though they're healthy.
The practice, which has been going on at USDA's Agriculture Research Service (ARS) facility for decades, was just uncovered by White Coat Waste Project – a taxpayer watchdog group.
Government documents obtained by White Coat Waste Project show a USDA lab in Maryland breeds up to 100 kittens a year.
When the kittens turn two months they're fed toxoplasma- infected red meat.
Researchers then collect their feces for several weeks to harvest the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis – a illness that can affect humans with compromised immune systems and unborn children infected in the womb.
The kittens are then killed and incinerated before they're three months old.
"This secretive facility is essentially a USDA kitten slaughterhouse that's been breeding and killing thousands of cats for decades at great expense to Americans and without their knowledge. This taxpayer- funded waste and abuse belongs in the litter box of history," says Justin Goodman, vice president of advocacy and public policy at White Coat Waste Project.
The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis is only excreted in cat feces, which is why cats are used for the research. The kittens are basically used as incubators to produce the parasite for research.
However, the USDA states that "cats fed toxoplasma-infected tissues usually do not become sick," which is one of the issues about this research that caught the eye of Rep. Michael Bishop (R-MI).
CBN News obtained a copy of a letter he sent to Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue Monday expressing his concerns.
"As you can imagine, I was shocked to hear that the USDA, the very organization set out to enforce animal welfare laws and regulations, was treating the life of animals with such contempt," Rep. Bishop writes.
He's asked Sec. Perdue to explain why the research protocol calls for the kittens to be killed since they typically don't get sick. He asks why the kittens aren't adopted to taxpayers who paid for the kittens in the first place.
In a statement provided to CBN News, the USDA Agricultural Research Service stresses the seriousness of toxoplasmosis.
"Unborn children who are infected can suffer mental retardation, seizures, and blindness. A World Health Organization panel estimated that toxoplasmosis has infected more than 10 million people globally," the statement reads.
USDA research using cats is responsible for helping to cut the prevalence of toxoplasmosis by as much as half in the US and Europe, according to the agency.
"USDA does not seek adoptions of these cats because of the risk the cats could pose to their adoptive familes...Our goal is to reduce the spread of toxoplasmosis. Adopting these cats, infortunately, could undermine that goal," the statement continues.
Rep. Bishop says that while he supports the objective of making food safer and protecting both humans and animals from infectious diseases he writes this research appears to, "create life to destroy life" and continues, "we must ensure taxpayer dollars are used effectively, efficiently, and humanely."
The current research authorization expires later this month, but documents show it has been re- approved for decades.
In fact, the chief researcher, Jitender Dubey, has been doing this type of research at USDA since 1982.
Research on kittens at the USDA is the latest in a series of campaigns by White Coat Waste Project to stop millions in taxpayer funding of animal research at federal agencies.
CBN News has reported on painful research on dogs at Veterans Affairs that is currently being reviewed with the goal of reducing it.
White Coat Waste Project recently launched a campaign against the Environmental Protection Agency for spending millions of tax dollars poisoning rabbits and other animals to study the effects of pollution.
Rep. Bishop has asked Secretary Perdue to report how much the USDA spends on its kitten research.