An Aug. 31 editorial took note of the violent action perpetrated at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center by a group calling itself the "Band of Mercy" and the immediate support given the group by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The Post's recognition of the destructive nature of these acts was appropriate, if somewhat restrained.

The biomedical research community has watched with apprehension as groups acting in the name of animal welfare have resorted increasingly to senseless acts of violence in pursuit of their goals. There has been growing concern that the break-ins would lead to other excesses, such as exposing infected animals under study to the general public with no consideration of the potential danger. These fears have now been realized in the theft of the cats from the center.

As reported, the center's research involved investigation of toxoplasmosis. Continued theft of experimental animals could threaten broader segments of society than the pregnant women and children most at risk from toxoplasmosis.

Too often in the past it has appeared that law enforcement agencies were reluctant to investigate and prosecute the dangerous criminal actions of groups such as the Band of Mercy. It is essential that the FBI, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local authorities vigorously pursue their investigation and that concerned citizens lend whatever assistance possible. This situation requires the speedy apprehension of the individuals involved.

The goal of biomedical research is knowledge that can contribute to the improved health of both humans and animals. Irresponsible actions such as the break-in in Beltsville, no matter what the alleged motives, only frustrate efforts to achieve that goal.


Executive Director

Federation of American Societies

for Experimental Biology


As a registered nurse, I thought The Post's editorial about the liberation of cats from the USDA's research center was a bit hysterical. It would be a disservice to health-conscious readers, particularly pregnant women, not to add some facts about toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis is common worldwide. For the vast majority of people, the disease is harmless and, once exposed, antibodies protect them from ever becoming reinfected. The treatment has existed basically unchanged since the 1940s, and the transmission, prevention and control of toxoplasmosis has been well documented since the early 1970s.

I have read much on this disease, including many of USDA researcher J. P. Dubey's papers. In 1972, Dr. Dubey advised that "pregnant women should eat only adequately cooked meat and either leave the cleaning of the cat litterpans to someone else or wear disposable gloves." In 1986, Dr. Dubey wrote that "data suggest that the ingestion of tissue cysts in undercooked or uncooked meat is an important source of infection." Specifically, "30 percent of the pigs in the U.S. are infected with Toxoplasma gondii," whereas at any given time "less than 1 percent" of cats are infectious and then "for only one week."

So in 1986, after 15 years of "research" and hundreds of cats, kittens, dogs, calves and horses made sick and killed, Dr. Dubey once again reports: "Meat . . . should be cooked" and "cat litter should be emptied every day, preferably not by pregnant women." In the same paper, Dr. Dubey writes: "Results of epidemiologic studies . . . have been inconclusive in linking human infections to the presence of cats in the household of infected people."

What, then, of the 11 liberated cats claimed to have been infected with this particular parasite? Those deliberately infected were contagious for at most two weeks and then no more, even in the event of reinfection. Those given such massive doses of the organism that they show symptoms can be treated to prevent transmission of infection. (Treated or not, feces must be left in a litter box five days before the organism can sporulate or become infectious.) Further, articles on the Band of Mercy's action have stated that the group has placed the cats under veterinary care.

Clearly, then, these cats are a danger only to the reputation of the USDA. One of its expensive, unsavory and seemingly rather fruitless experiments has been exposed to review by some of the people who pay for them: the taxpayers.


Takoma Park