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Will Witherspoon, Environmentalist And NFL Linebacker, Discusses Livestock Antibiotics With Congress

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From Mother Nature Network's John Platt:

Tennessee Titans linebacker and part-time cattle farmer Will Witherspoon sat down with members of the U.S. Congress on July 24 to talk about the use of antibiotics in livestock.

Witherspoon was part of a briefing convened by Congresswoman and microbiologist Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York, to discuss the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a bill that Slaughter introduced last year. The bill would end the routine use of antibiotics on healthy farm animals to stem the tide of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs."

According to Slaughter's website, "PAMTA would preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by phasing out the use of these drugs in healthy food-producing animals, while allowing their use for treatment of sick animals. The legislation also requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to apply the same tough standards to new applications for approval of animal antibiotics."

The Union of Concerned Scientists considers antibiotic resistance to be a "growing crisis." Overuse of antibiotics for both humans and livestock, the organization says, "contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections that are costly and difficult to treat. Moreover, the burden of antibiotic resistance is borne by the most vulnerable members of our society: children, the elderly, and individuals whose immune systems are already weakened, such as people undergoing chemotherapy or those with HIV/AIDS."

Witherspoon owns Shire Gate Farm in Missouri, a 500-acre "family retreat" that raises grass-fed livestock. The farm's animals "are free to roam the outdoors in a 'true' natural habit, free from chemical engineering and the restricted confines of corporate industrial farming," according to the farm website.

Cattle aren't the only animals the linebacker keeps. Witherspoon told USA Today that he owns 180 cattle, 90 chickens, 24 sheep, eight horses, and a nearly two dozen cats and dogs. He also owns two doggie day-care centers with animal shelters. This April, Rodale named Witherspoon one of the country's ten sexiest environmentalists, a list that also includes Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Alicia Silverstone.

Witherspoon has long advocated cutting back on antibiotics. "I think the best way to raise this issue is getting people educated," he told the Athens Banner-Herald. "Every day, more and more people are starting to understand where their food comes from, where it begins, and instead they're learning that there's another way to do this, and it's not by pumping in antibiotics."

In a press statement before the congressional briefing, Witherspoon said "scientists have warned that the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria represents one of the gravest known threats to human health. Yet over 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by the intensive livestock industry."

"Last year, the United States had three major outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant foodborne illness, all from meat products," Slaughter said during the briefing. "Decades of research has shown that daily dosing of antibiotics to healthy livestock is largely to blame for the rise in resistant bacteria. Routine use of antibiotics in feed is unnecessary for raising food-animals, and I'm dedicated to addressing this problem and protecting public health."

Also appearing before the congressional representatives were Frank Reese of the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch cooperative and veterinarian Dr. Michael Blackwell.

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