Scott Faber, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs, and Kalena Wojtala, a J.D. candidate at Vermont Law School and an intern working for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), have filed the latest petition with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
In the petition filed on April 27, the EWG requests that the USDA agency:
● Prohibit the “Low-Carbon Beef” Claim recently approved by USDA.
● Require third-party verification for similar carbon claims.
● Require a numerical on-pack carbon disclosure when such claims are made.
The EWG is a non-governmental organization that presents itself as a public interest, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Sacramento, and Minneapolis.
In their opening, Faber and Wojtala make the following arguments:
“Consumers are increasingly seeking to use their buying power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Misleading climate claims, including the “Low-Carbon Beef” claim recently approved by the USDA, undermine these efforts by confusing consumers. Many of these claims are not verified by independent, qualified third parties, and experts agree that USDA lacks reliable measurement, monitoring, reporting, and verification protocols.
“To address misleading climate claims, we urge USDA to reject misleading claims, such as the agency’s Low-Carbon Beef claim, and to modernize USDA’s verification system for climate claims to require independent third-party verification of claims. We urge USDA to require a numerical carbon disclosure whenever such claims are made.
“Allowing misleading climate claims, including USDA’s Low-Carbon Beef claim, or allowing climate claims without sufficient verification and an accompanying numerical carbon disclosure, violates federal laws which prohibit false and misleading claims.”
The pair claims any “low carbon” beef claims are “inherently misleading.”
“There is no such thing as “Low-Carbon Beef.” In fact, no food choice results in more greenhouse gas emissions than choosing beef,” the petition says. “However, many consumers viewing the Low-Carbon Beef label approved by USDA are likely to assume that beef bearing such a label will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
They further claim that “even the beef which meets the “Low-Carbon” beef standard approved by USDA still results in more greenhouse gas emissions than any other food choice, including any other meat or poultry choice. Making matters worse, beef meeting USDA’s “Low-Carbon” beef standard would still result in more emissions than much of the beef produced elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada. By any measure, choosing beef is a bad choice for the climate. Per gram of protein, beef production results in approximately nine times more greenhouse gas emissions than poultry, six-and-a-half times more than pork, and 25 times more than soybeans.”
Other labels popping up that EWG also dislikes include: Net-Zero, Carbon Neutral, Carbon Negative, Climate Neutral, Net-Zero Carbon, Climate Positive, Climate Neutral, and Carbon Positive. It says “Many of these claims are already appearing on products subject to USDA regulation. . .”
FSIS has referred the petition to the Office of Policy and Program Development for review and has been assigned petition number 23-04. Numerous companies already making carbon claims on their labels will likely follow this outcome.
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