NFL Linebacker and…Eco Hero?
Here’s why we salute Will Witherspoon
By Leah Zerbe

On the playing field, NFL linebacker Will Witherspoon is tasked with putting a stop to the other team’s offense. But off the field, he’s focused on sacking one of the industrial food system’s worst habits: The routine use of antibiotics in the meat industry. And he’s not afraid to fight for it.

On Tuesday, the 31-year-old Tennessee Titans player took his passion for cleaning up the food system to a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill. It’s an issue that hits close to home for him: Witherspoon isn’t just a pro football player; he’s a sustainable farmer, too. His 800-acre grass-fed beef operation at Shire Gate Farm in Missouri is living proof you can raise healthy animals without drugs.

Unfortunately, that’s not the norm. About 80% of antibiotics sold in this country are fed to farm animals to speed growth and offset their crammed, unsanitary living conditions. This antibiotic overuse is bad news for humans, too: As more drugs infiltrate farms, bacteria start to outsmart the medicines, leading to the creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs—dangerous germs that are routinely detected in supermarket meat.

To remedy this growing public health threat, Witherspoon and other sustainable farming and veterinary experts voiced their support for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, legislation introduced in 2011 by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY. If passed, it would ban the routine feeding of antibiotics in animals. The problem? Most members of Congress aren’t showing strong support for the bill, something experts say it likely do to push-back from the conventional agriculture and pharmaceutical industries.  

Until meaningful laws are in place, here’s what you can do to protect yourself:

1. Go organic. Organic farming bans the use of antibiotics in animal farming, and it requires that animal feed come from crops grown without the use of genetically engineered ingredients or chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic does not, however, guarantee that cows enjoyed a completely grass-based diet.

2. Look for the Animal Welfare Approved seal. Witherspoon’s beef is certified through this program, which means that the animals only ingest antibiotics when they have an illness that requires the meds. They also eat a diet based on pasture or range, which promotes healthy digestive health and reduces the risk of dangerous E. coli infections. You can search for approved products through the Animal Welfare Approved site.  

3. Connect with local farmers. Visit to find sustainable farmers in your area, and check out the operation for yourself. Ask the farmer about antibiotic use in feed and how the farm treats animals when they fall ill.

4. Seek out Certified Humane® products. This program only allows antibiotics when an animal is sick. While it does allow some confinement, the program prohibits crates and cages. Look for humane meat though {cms_selflink page=’home’ text=’’}.  

5. Show your support. Not a fan of meds in your meat? Contact your representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2011. The bill is currently in committee, and you can track of its progress by going to  

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