JBS USA, one of the world’s biggest meat processors, has shut down processing plants because of an “organized cybersecurity attack” on its North American and Australian IT servers.
The cyberattack on its servers was discovered Sunday, according to a JBS statement. They took “immediate action, suspending all affected systems, notifying authorities, and activating the company’s global network of IT professionals and third-party experts to resolve the situation.”
The attack forced the shutdown of several North American operations, including a plant in Plainwell, near Kalamazoo. The Plainwell plant now is partially reopening, according to John Cakmakci, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 951. The plant employs more than 1,200.
“They are partially reopening and hopefully within the next few days be fully operational,” Cakmakci said. “We are happy that they got some systems in full operation.”
JBS also shut down operations in Australia.
In the U.S., JBS’ five biggest plants, which handle 22,500 cattle a day, according to a Bloomberg report, stopped processing. Those plants account for 20% of the U.S. beef packing supply.
JBS is headquartered in Greeley, Colorado.
“The company is 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,” JBS wrote in a statement. “Resolution of the incident will take time, which may delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers.”
JBS said its backup servers were not affected and that they are working with an incident response firm to restore the systems.
“Cybersecurity is a real threat to our worldwide economy and certainly is a concern in agriculture,” Ernie Birchmeier, livestock and dairy specialist at Michigan Farm Bureau, said in a statement. “The ability for criminals to impact an industry and cause market disruption poses a direct economic impact on our farmers who rely on the processing and distribution industries to keep our food system functioning effectively and efficiently.”
Birchmeier expects “short-term market impacts that negatively impact our farmers.” He also cited the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and said “we can ill afford a repeat of that scenario.”
In early May, a ransomware cyberattack led to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline that runs from Texas to New York and supplies a good portion of the East Coast’s fuel. The pipeline was halted for five days, which led to temporary fuel shortages and spiked upticks in prices at the pump.
The one-two punch of the recent cyberattacks “shows that nothing is safe,” former senior Department of Homeland Security official Paul Rosenzweig told USA TODAY. “Not the meatpacking industry, not the chemical industry, not the wastewater treatment industry, not Sony. Nothing.”
“And the only way to be safe in this world is to unplug completely. And you can’t do that and be economically competitive,” added Rosenzweig, a Cybersecurity and Emerging Threats senior fellow at the non-partisan R Street Institute public policy research organization in Washington, D.C
JBS Foods USA is a leading producer of beef, pork, and chicken. According to its website JBS has:
- Nine plants in the U.S. processing beef
- Five facilities producing pork products
- 14 facilities in 14 states and Puerto Rico producing chicken
Its brands include Pilgrim’s Pride chicken and Certified Angus Beef.
Just in time for the outdoor grilling season, meat and poultry prices have already been on the rise.
Grocers are saying costs are up over 25% for beef and pork because of labor costs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meat prices are up 2% since April 2020.
Last spring, meat shortages and plant shutdowns came as the coronavirus spread. Plants were shut as workers became ill with COVID-19 causing major disruptions in the supply chain. For a while, grocery stores and warehouse club stores put limits on beef, chicken and pork.
Brian Weberman, director of poultry for Kaps Wholesale, a distributor in Detroit’s Eastern Market district, said the JBS issue could drive prices higher.
“It’s not an issue of livestock or chickens, physically, it’s a technology issue that could basically keep prices where they are if not drive them a little higher,” Weberman said. “With them being down for a day or two days or who knows how long this will take to rectify itself, will cause some backups.”
Distributors and grocers say chicken prices have already been increasing and are extremely high right now. Weberman said chicken wings and chicken thigh meat have gone higher because they are more labor-intensive.
“As labor has been short, it has driven those items higher,” Weberman said. “It’s not a shortage, things might just cost a few extra pennies.”
JBS on Sunday notified the Biden administration of the ransomware attack and the administration has offered its assistance to JBS, White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.
“JBS notified the administration that the ransom demand came from a criminal organization likely based in Russia,” Jean-Pierre said.
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