A Bill to End USDA Kitten-Killing Experiments

The Rise for Animals Team, December 21, 2018

If you’ve been following the campaign to get USDA to stop killing perfectly healthy kittens, you’ll love this:

You already know that USDA ARS staff are euthanizing perfectly healthy kittens and that we’ve offered USDA that we’ll adopt them out instead. We’re still waiting to hear back on that offer, as well as our notice to USDA that their failure to adopt out the kittens would violate a new Maryland law, but that’s a separate story.

Last night, something wonderful happened: Senator Merkley joined the growing chorus of Members of Congress that want the underlying experiments ended.

If this bill passes, the days of USDA doing ANY lethal experiments on kittens in the future will end.

The idea for this ban isn’t new, as a version of this legislation was introduced in the House in May of this year (by Rep. Mike Bishop of Utah) and a 61 Members of the House have formally supported it by cosponsoring it. His bill, like Sen. Merkley’s, would prohibit the Secretary of Agriculture from using kittens and cats in any experiments that unnecessarily hurts the animals.

But what makes last night’s development special is that for the first time, a U.S. Senator has started this legislative process in the Senate. That makes this effort bipartisan and bicameral (meaning both chambers of the U.S. Congress, the House and the Senate). And it sends a powerful message to USDA ARS Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young that ignoring this problem won’t make it go away.

Elected Officials representing 48 million Americans can’t be wrong!

In total, 63 Members of Congress in the House (Rep. Bishop, 61 cosponsors, and now Sen. Merkley) have backed a ban on cat-killing experiments at USDA. When you consider how many Americans those elected officials collectively represent, it’s 48 million. USDA should see the writing on the wall: elected officials representing nearly 50 million Americans are telling them it’s time to modernize their practices. We couldn’t agree more.

Here’s the key passage from Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)’s bill (formally known as the Kittens In Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act of 2018, or just the “KITTEN Act of 2019”, or bill number S. 3780), which if passed, would add this paragraph to the Animal Welfare Act, which governs how large swaths of animals in America are treated:

“The Secretary [of the USDA] shall not purchase, breed, transport, house, feed, maintain, dispose of, or conduct an experiment on a cat as part of any study or research that would subject that cat to a procedure that may cause pain or stress, including pain or stress that may be mitigated by anesthetics, analgesics, or tranquilizer drugs, unless the pain or stress is a result of a physical exam or training program.’’

Notice this ban doesn’t just apply to the specific toxoplasmosis study that USDA was caught doing earlier this year, and which we’ve made our adoption offer in relation to. This bill, like the House version it’s modeled after, puts a broader ban in place to ensure that USDA can never go down this awful road again.

The Fight Continues in 2019

Although this legislative session is almost over, we expect Sen. Merkley will continue this fight in 2019 by introducing a new version for the start of the 116th Congress in a few weeks.