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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida Congressman Brian Mast, R-Fla, is co-sponsoring a bill that would end the use of cats and kittens in U.S. Department of Agriculture experiments that cause pain, stress, and death.

U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta’s, D-Calif, bipartisan bill is called “Kittens In Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act”, also known as the KITTEN ACT.

“Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) performs parasite-related experiments on cats and kittens.  This taxpayer-funded testing results in thousands of kittens bred, fed parasite-infected raw meat and then killed,” Mast’s office noted on Thursday.

“The fact that we need a piece of legislation to tell the federal government to stop killing kittens is ridiculous on its face, but what’s even worse is when you hear the details that the government is actually breeding hundreds of these cats just to intentionally feed them parasite-ridden raw meat and then kill them even though they’re perfectly healthy,” Mast said.  “These tests are just awful, abusive and unnecessary, not to mention a serious misuse of millions of taxpayer dollars.  This needs to stop now.”

The KITTEN Act aims to find more humane alternatives to the USDA current practice of euthanizing kittens after they are used in agency research on toxoplasmosis–a disease caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.

The parasite infects between 13 and 40 percent of the population in the United States and United Kingdom, according to the USDA. Although it does not cause serious symptoms of illness in most adults, it can cause blindness and mental retardation in congenitally infected children.

The proposed legislation does not intend to stop the research, rather just save the kittens from being put down.

Since 1970, the USDA has spent $650,000 each year to infect and later kill kittens in its Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, MD, the lawmakers said.

Instead of killing the kittens, animal advocates say they should be treated with antibiotics and adopted out.

However, the agency maintains the animals have to be euthanized to stop the parasite from infecting people.

Other experts disagree.

The Centers for Disease Control, American Veterinary Medical Association, and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges say that these kittens are safe to have as pets and are “unlikely to pose a risk to humans.

The bill is supported by the watchdog group White Coat Waste Project.

“Three thousand kittens killed and $22 million squandered for decades of cruel and unproductive USDA experiments is tragic whether you care about government waste, animal protection or both. Like a majority of Americans, our two-million-plus members want this nightmarish program ended and we applaud Congressman Mast for leading the charge to shut down the USDA’s taxpayer-funded kitten abuse,” said Noelle Callahan, public policy manager at taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project.

The USDA said in 2018 it was looking for alternatives to the cat testing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says toxoplasmosis is one of the leading causes of death from foodborne illnesses in the country. Over 40 million Americans carry the parasite without a problem, but it can have “severe consequences” for people who are pregnant or have a compromised immune system.

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