Meat supplier JBS hopes to have the "vast majority" of plants running today after a ransomware attack.

By Mike Pomranz
June 02, 2021
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Just three weeks after a major ransomware incident threatened America's fuel supply by shutting down the Colonial Pipeline, another headline-grabbing cyberattack has gone after Americans' stomachs: JBS—the world's largest meat producer—was targeted on Sunday, with JBS USA stating that they had to suspend "some of the servers supporting its North American and Australian IT systems."

The ramifications apparently weren't quite as mundane as JBS USA made it sound, however. According to Bloomberg, the attack forced JBS—which is America's top beef supplier—to shut down all of their U.S. beef plants across at least six states, putting a temporary halt to an estimated 23 percent of the nation's beef supplies. Additionally, an official with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reportedly told the business site that all JBS meatpacking plants faced some sort of disruption due to the attack. Making matters worse, the American meatpacking industry was already one of the sectors worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meat production
Credit: alle12/Getty Images

Announcing the cyberattack on Monday, JBS pointed to silver linings, stating that they were "not aware of any evidence at this time that any customer, supplier or employee data has been compromised or misused as a result of the situation." But the company did admit, "Resolution of the incident will take time, which may delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers."

And as of yesterday, JBS was already announcing "significant progress" in resolving the issue, stating that both JBS USA and their Pilgrim's brand had shipped product from nearly all of its facilities and that "several of the company's pork, poultry and prepared foods plants were operational today."

"Our systems are coming back online and we are not sparing any resources to fight this threat," Andre Nogueira, CEO for JBS USA, stated. "We have cybersecurity plans in place to address these types of issues and we are successfully executing those plans. Given the progress our IT professionals and plant teams have made in the last 24 hours, the vast majority of our beef, pork, poultry and prepared foods plants will be operational tomorrow."

Assuming that these plants are able to be back up and running today, consumers likely shouldn't feel a pinch. Experts told CNN that though supplies might be tight coming out of the Memorial Day weekend, restaurants and grocery stores hopefully wouldn't choose to raise prices over such a brief disruption. "They would probably absorb those in the short run," Steve Meyer, an economist with commodity firm Kerns and Associates, told the news site. "As long as there was light at the end of the tunnel."

But if issues from the attack linger, prices could be affected. And perhaps even more troubling, adding on to the problems faced during the pandemic, this event exemplifies another downside to extreme consolidation in America's meat industry where four firms control about 80 percent of supply. "Attacks like this one highlight the vulnerabilities in our nation's food supply chain security, and they underscore the importance of diversifying the nation's meat processing capacity," Senator John Thune of South Dakota was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, JBS is far from alone in facing these kinds of attacks. Back in March, a similar incident temporarily shut down operations at America's second-largest brewer, Molson Coors. If hackers are ever able to coordinate their meat attacks with their beer attacks, then the U.S. could be in for a really upsetting summer.