by Leah Zerbe July 26, 2012, 08:56 pm EDT

Will Witherspoon has had a different off season than most NFL players.

Grass-fed beef is almost always on the menu for Will Witherspoon, a 31-year-old linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. “I eat so much red meat my blood is probably black from all of the iron,” he quips.

While the 6-foot-2, 240-pound athlete and foodie is often quick to crack a joke or share a funny story, he actually spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C., on some very serious business: He wants Congress to get antibiotics out of the meat industry.

Currently, farmers feed more than 30 million pounds of antibiotics to food-producing animals a year. Some experts believe that this is creating a dangerous spike in lethal superbug infections in people. The more drugs used on animals, the more prone bacteria become to outsmarting drugs people rely on.

For Witherspoon, the fight to remove drugs from the meat industry is personal. Known more for his intense on-field stares and ability to flatten quarterbacks, the 10-year pro has a secret soft spot for animals, too. Witherspoon owns Shire Gate Farm, an 800-acre sustainable farm in Missouri where he raises (and sells) his own supply of humanely raised, Animal Welfare Approved grass-fed beef.

Witherspoon, or “Spoon,” as his friends call him, testified against the routine use of low-dose antibiotics used in conventional farm animals during a Congressional briefing Tuesday. There’s legislation on the table that would ban antibiotic abuse in farming.

Here’s why Witherspoon eats grass-fed—and why you should, too. (See where grass-fed beef ranks on our list of 40 Foods with Superpowers.)

It’s All About the Taste
Witherspoon’s cows are healthy by default because they’re raised on lush pastures, the natural diet for cows. Grass-fed cattle produce meat higher in heart-protecting omega-3 fatty acids, and they’re much less likely to harbor the lethal e. coli O157:H7 strain of bacteria that thrives in the guts of cows fed a grain diet. Grass-fed beef also boasts a potent dose of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, a good fat that has the ability to halt tumor growth, according to lab studies.

Plus, Witherspoon guarantees grass-fed tastes better. “It’s a fuller, bolder taste. A lot of older people say it tastes like beef used to taste,” he explains. “It has a deeper red color, and the the fat is a nice yellow, which means it has taste and texture. In conventional [beef], you trim off the fat because it doesn’t taste really nice.”

(Now that you have the right beef, grill it up! Find dozens of delicious, nutritious summer recipes in the Men’s Health 2012 Grilling Guide.)

Want to avoid antibiotics in meat? Here’s how.

1.    Go organic. Organic farming bans the use of antibiotics in animal farming. Organic does not guarantee, however, that cows ate a completely grass-based diet. If that’s what you’re aiming for, look for the American Grassfed label from The American Grassfed Association.
2.    Seek out the Animal Welfare Approved seal. The AWA is considered to be the highest animal welfare standard for meat products. Animals raised in this audited program must be raised primarily on pasture or range, and antibiotics are only administered if an animal is actually sick and need the meds to recover.
3.    Familiarize yourself with Certified Humane®. This program allows antibiotics only if an animal is sick.
4.    Connect with local farmers. Visit to find sustainable farmers in your area, and check out the operation for yourself. Ask the farmer how he or she deals with disease and if they use antibiotics. (Want more help navigating the labels in your supermarket’s meat shelves? Watch out for these 4 Meat Label Lies.)

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