New York AG Letitia James Accuses JBS USA of Greenwashing

Feb. 29, 2024
N.Y. Attorney General has filed a lawsuit alleging that the meat processor intentionally misled consumers on its net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation commitments.

New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against meat processor JBS USA accusing it of “greenwashing,” alleging the company has misled consumers about its environmental impact and goals around eliminating deforestation and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2040.

James says JBS USA Food Co. and JBS USA Food Co. Holdings — subsidiary of Brazilian parent company JBS S.A. — attempted to capitalize on consumer sentiment for environmentally friendly products and companies without acknowledging the full scope of its own environmental impact — including its own documented plans to grow production and its carbon footprint. The lawsuit aims to stop JBS USA from continuing to market the statements it believes are misleading, and to pay penalties and disgorgement of all ill-gotten profits.

“JBS USA’s greenwashing exploits the pocketbooks of everyday Americans and the promise of a healthy planet for future generations,” James said in a release from her office.

In June 2023, a National Advertising Review Board (NARB) panel recommended JBS USA Holdings Inc. stop using specific claims of attaining its goal of “net zero” emissions by 2040, stating that those claims were misleading. At the time, JBS formally stated its disagreement with the ruling, but said it would comply.

The New York AG’s lawsuit points to instances in which JBS USA or its representatives made statements or pledges that were allegedly misleading, including an April 2021 full-page advertisement in the New York Times claiming that net-zero GHG emissions were possible for the company, as well as promotion of the “net zero in 2040” commitment on its web site and in various presentations. The NY Times advertisement included the phrasing: “Bacon, chicken wings and steak with net zero emissions. It’s possible,” which is one of the terms that the NARB recommended JBS stop using last year.

The release announcing the lawsuit claims that the defendants in the lawsuit had not calculated the company’s total GHG emissions, so it could not have truly known the real possibility of achieving net zero by 2040.

JBS USA won Food Processing’s 2023 Processor of the Year award and was extensively profiled in the magazine, including an entire article detailing the company’s achievements, goals and strategies in becoming a company of solutions when it comes to environmental stewardship. In that article, the company’s commitment to the cause was repeated, and Jason Weller, JBS S.A.’s global chief sustainability officer made it clear, saying, “We have a climate crisis. JBS is serious about the impacts of a changing climate on our global food system, and we believe that agriculture must be part of the solution.”

Nikki Richardson, spokesperson for JBS USA, responded in an email to The Associated Press saying the company is “undeterred” in its belief that American agriculture can help sustainably feed the world.

About the Author

Andy Hanacek | Senior Editor

Andy Hanacek has covered meat, poultry, bakery and snack foods as a B2B editor for nearly 20 years, and has toured hundreds of processing plants and food companies, sharing stories of innovation and technological advancement throughout the food supply chain. In 2018, he won a Folio:Eddie Award for his unique "From the Editor's Desk" video blogs, and he has brought home additional awards from Folio and ASBPE over the years. In addition, Hanacek led the Meat Industry Hall of Fame for several years and was vice president of communications for We R Food Safety, a food safety software and consulting company.

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