Big Meat’s Sustainability Lies: Media’s Complicity Exposed

Big Meat's Sustainability Lies
Big Meat's Sustainability Lies

United States – Letitia James came up against Donald Trump. Now, she is trading the cruelty of the meat industry. Last January, the New York Attorney General initiated a new kind of lawsuit against JBS USA, the biggest meatpacking company in the world, under the title of “fraudulent and illegal environmental marketing practices.”

James Files Lawsuit Against JBS

The litigation states that, specifically, JBS USA’s advertisements claiming that they will reach ‘net zero emissions’ by 2040 are lies cunningly designed to deceive environmentally conscious consumers by telling them they can buy a product that will cause more harm to the environment than is good for it, as reported by HEATED.

Brazil-based JBS has not had its first experience with faulty advertisements on climate where they had lied. In June 2023, the meat giant—whose brand names are “Swift,” “Certified Angus Beef,” and “Grass Run Farms”—was informed by the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), an advertising organization of the BBB National Programs, that it is needed to stop advertising their net zero promise. After the review, the NARB deferred JBS’s claims, determining that the company didn’t have an “established and vetted program” to reach net zero emissions. NARB also said there was no evidence proving the company is on a path towards net zero.

To shed further light on the issue, James’ lawsuit delineates that JBS does not even qualify its own carbon impact. Hence, “the $10 billion company having a reliable plan of the elimination of the deep-rooted problem is inconceivable”. The court papers also highlight the focus of the company to grow and commodify meat consumption, a pattern that climate scientists indicate cannot result in net zero emissions. JBS reported a figure of 32 billion pounds of animal products already produced per year, and the financial giant is one of the biggest consumers of cattle raised on newly deforested land, as per The New York Times.

“They’re making all sorts of claims and promises,” said Jennifer Jacquet, professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Miami. “I think some people are getting sort of fed up, and it’s not surprising to see New York take the lead on this.”

Paid Advertising

Despite the awareness of the situation, JBS has maintained its marketing eloquence and keeps on stressing that it has zero net emission goals. Even more shameful, some of the US’s most trusted news providers have also joined the fight, getting paid from the beef industry to spread their misinformation about emissions. In the process of reviewing the facility where the JBS meatpacking plant was, we observed more than 20 major media houses that ran the climate ads, including Reuters, the Houston Business Journal, CNN, Fast Company, the Guardian, and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Some of the big ones really got me thinking; this is what they said and how they greenwashed for JBS.

Politico: “It is not up to us to decide what is factually accurate.”

As of 2021, Politico has taken a total of $53,000 from JBS to run ads and sponsored content that says JBS has plans of reaching zero emissions, based on MediaRadar data analysis, as reported by HEATED.

One JBS advertorial in Politico from last year reads: “JBS USA is the first company in its sector to pledge to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.”

The Politico advertorial provides evidence to support its claim of being sustainable by referring to information from Colorado State University’s AgNext program. However, it does not mention that the livestock industry funds the AgNext program at CSU, which is run by JBS USA’s former manager of sustainability.

“They’re using the university to lend its credibility to the advertorial,” said Jacquet, who recently published a paper in the journal Climatic Change examining how the meat industry cites its own research to make its marketing look legitimate. That’s how corporations create “this illusion of credibility and these false narratives,” she said, as reported by HEATED.

Politico Under Fire for JBS Ads

Politico’s advertising policies do not include false and deceptive content. Besides these ads, the New York Times does not consent to ads that are “gratuitously offensive, shows or help in any violence, or are considered to be in poor taste.” In addition, the publisher does not agree to any advertisements that “discriminate.”

Politico did not reply to our queries for comment about its JBS climate advocacy campaign. However, in an earlier exchange, the company had made similar comments to HEATED in response to the allegations of publishing misleading ads on climate. Politico’s executive vice president, Cally Stolbach Baute, told us last year: “We are not the ones who are involved in deciding what is factual and what is not factual.”