The 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 major setback for JBS, which is 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.

Ms. 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. One she cited occurred during an onstage interview with Gilberto Tomazoni, the company’s global chief executive, at a New York Times event in September.

Other examples of misleading claims, Ms. James said, include a 2015 industry presentation, a full-page ad that JBS placed in The Times in 2021, and statements that currently appear on the company’s website.

She added that JBS has “used greenwashing and misleading statements to capitalize on consumers’ increasing desire to make environmentally friendly choices,” including with statements such as: “Agriculture can be part of the climate solution. Bacon, chicken wings, and steak with net zero emissions. It’s possible.”

“When companies falsely advertise their commitment to sustainability, they are misleading consumers and endangering our planet,” Ms. James said in a statement. “JBS USA’s greenwashing exploits the pocketbooks of everyday Americans and the promise of a healthy planet for future generations.”

In a statement to The Times, JBS said it disagreed with the attorney general’s allegations. It said that it would continue to work with farmers and others “to help feed a growing population while using fewer resources and reducing agriculture’s environmental impact.”

JBS was already under scrutiny for its environmental record, labor practices and past activities. In 2017, its holding company, J&F Investimentos, agreed to pay $3.2 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.

Since then, the holding company says, it has developed a robust anti-corruption program for JBS, a requirement of the plea deal, though it recently announced it would challenge the fine it had previously agreed to in the 2017 settlement agreement. A Brazilian Supreme Court Justice temporarily suspended payment.

In the live interview with the Times, Mr. Tomazoni said JBS was working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. “We are so confident that we are doing a great job on that,” he said. “And look, we pledge to be net zero in 2040.”

But JBS’s claim that it would be able to achieve zero emissions was deemed misleading by the National Advertising Review Board last year.

JBS said at the time that it disagreed the advertising board’s “interpretation of how consumers perceive the challenged claims,” but agreed to comply with the recommendation to stop using the net-zero claims in “published statements and advertising claims going forward.”

JBS produces huge quantities of beef, pork and chicken. It has annual revenues of more than $50 billion and an extensive supply chain that includes tens of thousands of farms in the Amazon. A Times investigation found that ranches supplying JBS significantly overlapped Indigenous land, conservation zones or areas that were deforested after 2008, when laws regulating deforestation were put in place in Brazil.

JBS said at the time that the ranches had been in compliance with rules to prevent deforestation when it bought from them, though it acknowledged it couldn’t trace indirect suppliers. It also said it had excluded thousands of suppliers because of irregularities.

Its proposed listing on the New York Stock Exchange has faced strong opposition, drawing together an unusual alliance of environmentalists, other meatpackers and both Republican and Democratic politicians. Last week, JBS said it was delaying plans for the listing until at least the second half of the year.

Glenn Hurowitz, the chief executive of Mighty Earth, a nonprofit group that investigates supply chains that affect forests, said the lawsuit demonstrated how a company’s handling of climate and environmental issues can become an obstacle to business success.

The lawsuit “should be a warning signs to other companies that think environmental concerns can be easily dismissed,” he said.


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Credit: NYTimes.com

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