Consumer Watchdog to FTC: Revised Green Guides Must Tackle Big Ag Greenwashing

50+ groups urge FTC to prevent the marketing of factory farm products as “sustainable”

Published Apr 24, 2023


Food System

50+ groups urge FTC to prevent the marketing of factory farm products as “sustainable”

50+ groups urge FTC to prevent the marketing of factory farm products as “sustainable”

Washington, DC — More than 50 groups led by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch have submitted comments to the Federal Trade Commission urging that the agency’s latest “Green Guides” tackle Big Ag greenwashing. 

The groups called for the FTC to provide new guidance on sustainability claims made by food companies, and to prevent the marketing of factory farm products as “sustainable.” Commenters also urged action on misleading marketing claims regarding carbon offsets, net zero and recyclability.

The comments submitted state in part: Many consumers now seek out products with environmental attributes communicated through sustainability, climate, and recyclability claims. Unfortunately… two of the most polluting industries in the United States – the industrial agriculture and fossil fuel sectors – have opted to invest in deceptive marketing instead of meaningfully changing their practices to reduce their environmental footprints.

Last updated in 2012, the FTC Green Guides are federal guidance intended to put industry on notice that their marketing likely violates federal law. Monday marks the close of a public comment period for a new version of the Guides, expected later this year.

As detailed in the comments, consumers are concerned both about the environmental footprint of the food they purchase, and about the harms of factory farms, which have come to dominate U.S. meat, poultry and dairy production. Fully 8 out of 10 national survey respondents expressed concern about the well-documented air and water pollution, worker safety issues, and health problems caused by factory farms.

Absent federal marketing guidance, Big Ag has effectively greenwashed factory farm products to an increasingly concerned public, using false and misleading claims to bolster corporate profits. Factory farm gas has emerged as a recent trend in corporate greenwashing, enabling producers to misrepresent their harmful climate emissions as a climate fix. Food & Water Watch has a pending complaint before the FTC regarding Smithfield Foods’ use of greenwashed advertising to portray their factory farm gas operations as sustainable.

Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney Tyler Lobdell issued the following statement:

“Factory farms are unsustainable by their very nature. Big Ag corporations have been engaged in increasingly aggressive deception to sell their harmful products as good for the planet, consumers and rural communities. This could not be farther from the truth. As factory farm pollution poisons our air and water, emissions accelerate climate chaos, and working conditions regularly send employees to the hospital, corporations are raking in millions from selling a lie.

“Big Ag’s elaborate greenwashing is intentionally misleading the public — it’s time for this to stop. The FTC must seize this rare opportunity to restrict the marketing of factory farm products as ‘sustainable’ and follow through with robust enforcement.”

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Press Contact: Phoebe Galt [email protected]