New York state has launched legal action against Brazilian meat processing giant JBS over allegations of environmental claims that deceive customers.

State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the group’s US arm yesterday (28 February).

James has called on the New York County Supreme Court to demand JBS drops its 2040 net-zero pledge.

Within the filing, James claimed the company has “repeatedly and persistently made unsubstantiated and misleading environmental marketing claims to New York consumers”.

She said the beef producer has greenwashed consumers by telling them that it had been actively reducing greenhouse gasses and the negative effects of its beef production practices to become more environmentally-friendly.

As an example, James cited JBS’s 2021 advertisement in The New York Times in 2021 that used a net-zero claim. The pledge is also advertised on the company’s website.

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“The JBS Group, however, has had no viable plan to meet its commitment to be ‘net-zero by 2040′”, she insisted, adding that even if the company did, it would not meet the target, “because there are no proven agricultural practices to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero at the JBS Group’s current scale”.

Why claims of ‘sustainable’ beef should be taken with a pinch of salt

As a consequence of false messaging, the Swift and Aspen Ridge meats producer has been able to profit “from its fraudulent and illegal business activities across New York State”, she said.

Such actions of “deceptive business practices and false advertising”, she said, are a breach of sections 349 and 350 of the New York General Business Law.

Commenting in a separate statement, James said the company’s “greenwashing exploits the pocketbooks of everyday Americans and the promise of a healthy planet for future generations. My office will always ensure that companies do not abuse the environment and the trust of hardworking consumers for profit.”

Responding to the news in a statement, JBS said it took its sustainability goals “very seriously”.

They added: “We disagree with the action taken today by the New York Attorney General’s office. JBS will continue to partner with farmers, ranchers and our food system partners around the world 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.”

JBS first set its 2040 net-zero commitment in March 2021. At the time, it claimed to be “the first major company in its sector to set a net-zero target.”

The pledge applies to the group’s operations worldwide, including the Moy Park brand in the UK and Pilgrim’s Pride in the US.

In November, the state of New York sued PepsiCo over the alleged impact the food and drink major’s packaging was having on the environment and public health in the Buffalo region.