(CBS News) The United States Department of Agriculture is ending a controversial food-safety testing practice that has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of cats since 1982. USDA officials announced on Tuesday that toxoplasmosis research will no longer use cats to study the effects of the parasite.
For decades, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) laboratories have been using kittens to study the
Cats are the only known host species where T. gondii, the parasite which causes toxoplasmosis, can complete its life cycle and lay eggs, which allows researchers to more completely study the disease and its effects. Kittens and cats can pass the parasite through feces when they shed millions of eggs for as long as three weeks after initial infection. This can infect humans in a domesticated setting by having the parasite form in a litter box, or when animals that humans eat digest cat feces.
According to the USDA and Center for Disease Control, the taxoplasmosis disease is the leading cause of death of food-borne illness in the United States, though its rates have been cut in half since the ARS began its research into the disease.