New York Attorney General Sues Meatpacking Giant Over Climate Claims

New York Attorney General Letitia James, on Wednesday, sued JBS USA, the American arm of the world’s largest meatpacker, accusing the company of making misleading statements about its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The lawsuit is a significant setback for JBS, based in Brazil, as it pursues a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

The lawsuit alleges that JBS has made a series of deceptive statements about its record on climate change, including claims that it will achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

James cited several instances in recent years when the company claimed it was on the path to being net zero or not adding any carbon emissions to the atmosphere. She cited one during an onstage interview with Gilberto Tomazoni, the company’s global chief executive, at a New York Times event in September.

“Families are willing to spend more of their hard-earned money on products from brands that are better for the environment. JBS USA’s greenwashing exploits the pocketbooks of everyday Americans and the promise of a healthy planet for future generations,” James said in a statement.

The lawsuit filed in a New York state court in Manhattan seeks a $5,000 civil fine per violation of state business laws and to recoup ill-gotten gains from false sustainability claims.

JBS’s businesses include Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the largest U.S. chicken producers.

“JBS takes its commitment to a more sustainable future for agriculture very seriously. We disagree with the action taken today by the New York Attorney General’s office,” a spokesperson for the meatpacking company said.

“JBS will continue to partner with farmers, ranchers, and our food system partners worldwide to help feed a growing population while using fewer resources and reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. Our belief that American agriculture can help sustainably feed the world is undeterred,” the spokesperson continued.

The company generated about $54 billion of revenue in the first nine months of 2023, about 59% of which came from North America and Central America.

JBS was already scrutinized for its environmental record, labor practices, and past activities. In 2017, its holding company, J&F Investimentos, agreed to pay $3 billion in reparations and fines as part of a Brazilian federal investigation after the company acknowledged bribing public officials to sign off on investments so it could expand its business internationally. In a 2020 plea agreement, J&F pleaded guilty to related charges brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Glenn Hurowitz, the chief executive of Mighty Earth, a nonprofit group investigating supply chains that affect forests, said the lawsuit demonstrated how a company’s handling of climate and environmental issues could hinder business success.