Watchdog Can Run Transit Ads Decrying Kitten Tests

(CN) – Ads protesting experimental testing on kittens by the Agriculture Department will soon appear on buses and trains in Maryland thanks to a settlement between a taxpayer watchdog group and the state, which initially rejected the group’s ad campaign this fall.

The Washington, D.C.-based White Coat Waste Project sued the Maryland Department of Transportation in October after the agency refused to run its ads protesting the alleged slaughter of kittens at a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Beltsville, Maryland.

The group claimed the denial was a violation of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, arguing that informing the public about the use of taxpayer funds for the testing or torture of animals serves an educational purpose.  

The defendants – the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Transportation Administration and the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland – did not have any official policies in place barring such content from appearing on buses and trains.  

The state transportation agencies must begin running the ads in early 2019 and must pay $6,000 in attorney fees, according to the nine-page settlement agreement.

The welfare of kittens has also been a popular subject on Capitol Hill this week.

Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced a Senate version of the KITTEN Act, or the Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act of 2018, on Wednesday.  

According to the senator, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service breeds up to 100 kittens each year, “feeds them parasite-infected meat in order to have the parasite’s eggs harvested for use in other experiments and then kills the kittens.”

U.S. Representative Mike Bishop, R-Mich., wrote a letter to the USDA in May citing concerns about “incinerated” cats and kittens at its lab in Maryland.

A department spokesperson defended the use of cats to CNN as “essential” and said the claim that the research facility used up to 100 cats per year is a “serious over-estimation.”

Bishop introduced a House version of the KITTEN Act earlier this year, securing wide bipartisan support.

With the legislation introduced in the Senate during a lame-duck session, lawmakers will not act on the bill until next year.

When reached for comment Friday, a spokesperson for the USDA Agricultural Research Service said that it wouldn’t comment on the proposed legislation in the Senate but that it conducts its research “with the strictest adherence to ethical standards and rigorous implementation of best management practices.”

“Animal-aided research efforts,” including the research done with cats at the Beltsville facility, is done to stop the spread of toxoplasmosis, the leading cause of death attributed to food-borne illnesses, the spokesperson said.

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