March 11, 2024

NY State AG Letitia James files complaint accusing global beef producer JBS USA of greenwashing

JBS USA Food Company and JBS USA Food Company Holdings (“JBS USA”), the US subsidiary of the world’s largest producer of beef products, was recently sued by New York State Attorney General Letitia James for misleading the public about the environmental impact of its products.  The allegations relate to the company’s pledge to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 despite documented plans to increase production, which will increase its carbon footprint.  Beef production reportedly produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other major food commodity and is also the top driver of deforestation in the world’s tropical forests.  According to the Office of the NY State AG, JBS Group, JBS USA’s global parent company, has specifically reported that it produced annual total global emissions of more than 71 million tons, which is more than the total produced by some countries – emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

In the complaint, James accuses JBS USA of using greenwashing, or making misleading statements about its environmental impact, in order to capitalize on consumers’ willingness to pay more for sustainable products and support companies that are climate conscious and make environmentally friendly choices.  In the complaint filed on February 28, 2024, James alleges that JBS USA’s “net zero” claims constitute deceptive business practices and false advertising in violation of sections 349 and 350 of the General Business Law.  James also alleges that JBS USA’s continuing promise to achieve “Net Zero by 2040” while knowing that the claim is fraudulent violates Executive Law 63(12).  The complaint asks the court to order JBS USA to stop its “Net Zero by 2040” campaign, conduct a third-party audit of the company’s compliance with NY consumer protection statutes, impose civil penalties, and disgorge its ill-gotten gains.

According to James, the JBS Group and JBS USA have repeatedly touted “net zero” claims since 2021, and the more recent “Net Zero by 2040” pledge made by JBS Group’s CEO at a New York Climate Week event in September 2023 is not feasible, especially in light of the company’s plans to significantly increase beef production.  The companies have allegedly been making these promises since before the JBS Group was able to calculate its total greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, had no way of knowing whether net zero emissions could be achieved by 2040.  The NY AG’s Office also indicates that the BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (“NAD”) determined that the company’s evidence does not support its net zero claims.  As a result, the NAD has recommended that JBS USA stop making “net zero” claims in its advertising, a recommendation that the National Advertising Review Board has also allegedly affirmed.  The office also alleges that the JBS Group’s greenhouse gas emissions calculations are not accurate and fail to account for emissions resulting from deforestation in the Amazon.

Office of the NY State AG Press Release | Summons and Complaint