Republican Rep. Mike Bishop introduced a bill on Friday to stop the Department of Agriculture from using cats and kittens in painful experiments.
The legislation, dubbed the "Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act of 2018," or KITTEN Act, directs the secretary of agriculture to "end the use of cats in experiments that cause pain or stress." It is co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California.
"The USDA must stop killing kittens, and I hope to work collaboratively with the agency towards that goal," Bishop, of Michigan, said in a statement.
The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the legislation.
Earlier this week, Bishop sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing alarm and asking questions about research allegedly conducted by the department.
Citing documents reviewed by his office, he alleged in the letter that a research project at the department's Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, "involves breeding hundreds of kittens, feeding them Toxoplasma-infected raw meat for 2-3 weeks, collecting their feces during this time to harvest parasites, and then killing the kittens and discarding them by 'incineration.'"
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that can cause serious health issues for pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A spokesperson for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service told CNN earlier this week that the use of an estimated 100 cats a year under the experimental protocol cited in the letter was "a serious over estimation" and called cats "essential" to the research.
"The Agricultural Research Service-USDA (ARS) makes every effort to minimize the number of cats used to produce eggs required to research one of the most widespread parasites in the world. The cats are essential to the success of this critical research," the spokesperson said.
Justin Goodman of the White Coat Waste Project, a watchdog group that says it provided Bishop's office with documents referenced in the letter, applauded the legislation.
"We're grateful to congressmen Bishop and Panetta for their swift and decisive bipartisan action," Goodman said in a statement.
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