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New York Attorney General Sues JBS for Alleged Greenwashing
Tuesday, March 26, 2024

On February 28, the New York Attorney General (NYAG) sued JBS USA Food Company and JBC USA Food Company Holdings (collectively, JBS), pursuant to New York state consumer protection laws, for alleged greenwashing regarding the company’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions. The lawsuit represents the latest shoe to drop from what appears to have been a sustained, activist-driven attack against JBS’s green advertising claims, particularly its previously announced “Net Zero” commitment.

Readers of this blog may recall our prior post discussing the National Advertising Division (NAD) proceedings from 2023 in which NAD, and later NARB, found that JBS could not substantiate that it had taken sufficiently concrete steps to achieve its stated goal of becoming “Net Zero by 2040.” The NAD proceeding, which had been filed by the non-profit "Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy,” followed a whistleblower complaint to the SEC filed by an activist group known as “Mighty Earth” against an unnamed company on similar grounds. 

Following the NAD’s decision adverse to JBS, the NARB later issued a decision affirming the NAD and then followed that up a few months later, in November 2023, with a compliance report in which it wrote that JBS had not fully complied with NARB’s recommendation that it drop the Net Zero claim.

There are two main takeaways from the new NYAG lawsuit. First, the NYAG suit makes clear that noncompliance with NAD and NARB recommendations can lead not only to FTC enforcement but also to state lawsuits – even in the absence of an express referral from the NAD or NARB. Second, this shows that the State Attorneys General are also looking for greenwashing cases and that Net Zero claims are viewed as potentially problematic where, as the complaint alleges, JBS “could not feasibly meet its [Net Zero by 2040] pledge because there are no proven agricultural practices to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero at the JBS Group’s current scale, and offsetting those emissions would be a costly undertaking of an unprecedented degree.”

Why is this important? JBS is a global agricultural and meat-producing giant – a member of an industry sector that activists have targeted as emitting substantial amounts of greenhouse gases. We can expect to see more activist-driven legal actions focused on theories of false advertising as these heavy emitters begin to advertise their efforts to reduce emissions. These types of cases often lead to injunctive and monetary relief and impose serious costs on the defendants. 

We can expect to see more activist-driven legal actions, focused on theories of false advertising, as these heavy-emitters begin to advertise about their efforts to reduce emissions.
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