• Home
  • Feds to Slaughter Meat Industry with Its Greenwashing Claims

Feds to Slaughter Meat Industry with Its Greenwashing Claims

William L. Kovacs

April 2024

Feds to Slaughter Meat Industry with Its Greenwashing Claims

Our largest corporations foolishly relish greenwashing the products they sell to Americans. “[G]reenwashing…unsubstantiated claim[s] to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly…” Since there has been little risk of liability for making such claims, corporations vigorously worked to ingratiate themselves with the government and its environmental collaborators in hope of securing government benefits and protection from environmental advocates. Now government and environmental groups will use corporate greenwashing claims against industry. The fossil fuel industry was the first target, meat is the second.

The federal government and its paid environmental activists are rolling out a scheme to combat climate change by telling Americans to “eat no meat, it is destroying the earth.” These environmental activists argue that by banning all animal agriculture in 15 years, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 68%. This reduction will “pause the rise of greenhouse gases warming the planet until 2060.”

The federal government and the environmental community are launching a multi-front attack, that if successful, will destroy the industry.

On March 6, 2024, the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) finalized its 875-page rule to “Enhance and Standardize Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors.” While the rule has an effective date of May 28, 2024 the SEC agreed to pause the effective date until final court review. Industry views the pause as a sign the SEC fears court review. The pause, however, is a brilliant legal strategy that avoids years of litigation over dozens of procedural delay motions. The pause lets the court address the validity of the rule immediately.

The SEC rule requires publicly traded companies, called “registrants,” to provide standardized climate-related information in all reported materials, including how they will address severe weather-related events. Corporations will also have to report (guess) how they will address future changes in government climate policies and report all climate-related spending and mitigation efforts to comply with future government regulations.

The several hundred corporations promising to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from human activity by 2040 should be very worried. Corporations will have to state their climate-related targets and the actions they will take to meet those targets. Essentially, all environmental claims must be supported by actions sufficient to achieve the reported goal, or the corporation will be subject to liability. About 90% of companies in the Russell 1000 Index are captured by this regulation.

The meat and dairy industries are now the tip of the spear.

The meat and dairy industries have been criticized for greenwashing their environmental commitments for years. Environmental groups highlight the hypocrisy of an industry that claims it will achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2040 while planning massive increases of cattle to meet worldwide demand for meat. The environmentalists are targeting the world’s largest meat factories: JBS, Tyson, Danish Crown, Nestle, Danone, Arla, and Fonterra.

Environmental activists point out that the emissions from the top five meat and dairy companies combined exceed those of Exxon, Shell, and BP. These cattle companies used the “net-zero promises” to promote their “greenness” while increasing their greenhouse emissions. The SEC rule and environmentalists have called the meat industry’s greenwashing bluff.

Progressive states will help the SEC achieve enforcement.

Every failure to meet an environmental promise will likely subject companies to liability. Governments and environmental activists will file lawsuits for greenwashing deceit using the information the meat industry provides the SEC. Even specious lawsuits are expensive to defend.

Already, New York has used Executive Law Section 63(12) against one of the world’s largest meatpackers for fraudulent environmental claims.

New York alleges that the meatpacker deceived consumers and seeks $5,000 a day for each violation. Will the judgement sought be based the harm caused by the meatpacker’s actions, or the number of people eating meat? Think of the $454 million judgment against Trump rendered under the same law without any proof of harm or accepted method of calculating harm.

Bring in the class action lawyers.

Until the SEC rule, it was difficult to establish that raising cattle harmed the planet. Linking corporate actions to climate harm is an almost impossible task. With the SEC rule, proof of causation (cattle cause climate change) is unnecessary. All that is needed to establish liability under the SEC regulation, or the New York law, is proof the meat producer failed to meet its environmental commitments. The SEC will provide state attorneys general and class action lawyers with all the information needed on a silver platter. Securing liability will be as simple as “Environmental promise made; environmental promise broken.” Proof of environmental harm is irrelevant.

There is a long-list of class action law-suits costing industry hundreds of billions in damages, e.g.; Asbestos, Round-Up, Tobacco. Almost 325 million Americans eat meat. What is the value of that lawsuit?

EPA jumps on the attack beef crusade.

In December 2023 the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) entered into a “Sue and Settle agreement” with environmental groups to secretly require the meat industry “to spend whatever cost is necessary to meet effluent limits regardless of the benefits to water quality.” The meat industry was precluded from a settlement in which the EPA accepted as fact a non-peered review study by the environmental group suing the agency. Moreover, the industry did not see EPA’s proposed rule until it was publicly released in early 2024. “EPA quotes the study more than 20 times in the proposed rule…” Moreover, by limiting the industry to a 60-day review period, the meat industry will not have sufficient time to analyze the validity of the data used to justify the rule. How much government regulation and litigation can the meat industry take and remain in business?

How it all ends.

Corporations need to make products they are proud to sell and people want. When corporations advertise their products and operations as something they are not, they open themselves to attack. Corporations must appreciate that environmental activists and government regulators are not their allies, no matter how much a corporation promises to “save the planet.” Environmental activists seek to eliminate humans from the earth; just read their own words. To achieve this goal, they must first eliminate the products and foods humans need to survive. Once corporations appreciate this reality, they will be better able to justify that their products are a benefit to people by producing a comfortable life.

Greenwashing claims give government and environmental advocates the excuse needed to take industry’s products off the market.

William L. Kovacs author of Devolution of Power: Rolling Back the Federal State to Preserve the Republic. His previous book Reform the Kakistocracy received the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change. He served as senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and chief counsel to a congressional committee. He can be contacted at [email protected]