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NY attorney general sues world’s largest beef producer over methane emissions, climate commitments

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a sweeping lawsuit accusing the world's largest producer of beef of misleading the public about its commitments to sustainability.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing JBS USA, the world’s largest producer of beef, over the company’s emissions and for “greenwashing” by allegedly misleading the public about its environmental impact.

In an announcement, James noted that beef production has the largest greenhouse gas footprint of any major food commodity and that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to James, JBS USA’s various net-zero pledges for 2030 and 2040 are therefore misleading and “not feasible” given the scope of its worldwide beef production operations.

“As families continue to face the daily impacts of the climate crisis, they are willing to spend more of their hard-earned money on products from brands that are better for the environment,” James said in a statement. “When companies falsely advertise their commitment to sustainability, they are misleading consumers and endangering our planet.”


“JBS USA’s greenwashing exploits the pocketbooks of everyday Americans and the promise of a healthy planet for future generations,” she added. “My office will always ensure that companies do not abuse the environment and the trust of hardworking consumers for profit.”

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The lawsuit was applauded by state Democrats and national climate advocacy organizations like Earthjustice, Mighty Earth, Friends of the Earth US, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Stand.earth. 

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“JBS repeatedly claims that it will reach net zero by 2040. This claim was found to be misleading and yet JBS continues to assert it,” said Peter Lehner, an attorney at Earthjustice. “While it is critical for every company to reduce its climate change impact, JBS would need to implement enormous operational changes to achieve this goal. However, JBS is doing very little and is not taking anywhere close to the steps that would be required.”

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In her announcement and lawsuit, James pointed to several instances in which JBS USA and its executives made pledges to reduce the company’s impact on the environment. She also stated the company – which has a market cap of more than $10 billion and whose North American beef business earns tens of billions of dollars annually – has acknowledged consumers are more interested in sustainable products.

For example, in March 2021, JBS announced a pledge to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 across global operations and including indirect downstream emissions. The company then began a publicity campaign touting the pledge, running a full-page advertisement one month later in the New York Times stating “it’s possible” for meat production to be “part of the climate solution.”

Since then, JBS and its subsidiaries have continued to tout the 2040 pledge and other sustainability goals. The company even presented at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai late last year, announcing additional sustainability initiatives and investments.

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“JBS takes its commitment to a more sustainable future for agriculture very seriously,” JBS USA spokesperson Nikki Richardson said in an email to Fox News Digital. “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,” she continued. “Our belief that American agriculture can help sustainably feed the world is undeterred.”

James’ lawsuit comes as environmental groups and lawmakers worldwide increasingly set their sights on the agriculture industry. The global food system – which includes land-use change, actual agricultural production, packaging and waste management – generates about 18 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of 34% of total worldwide emissions, according to a 2021 study published in the Nature Food journal.

President Biden’s international climate envoy John Kerry warned last year that decarbonization would be impossible without a concerted effort from the agriculture industry to achieve green goals.

“We can’t get to net-zero, we don’t get this job done unless agriculture is front and center as part of the solution. So all of us understand here the depths of this mission,” Kerry said.

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