The JBS Cyberattack Just Eradicated One-Fifth of US Beef Capacity

Holy cow.
Brad Bergan
Beef cattle on a farm.James Coleman / Unsplash

The largest meat producer in the world was forced to shut down, not from climate change, but a cyberattack.

And it wiped out one-fifth of the beef capacity in the United States, according to an initial report from Bloomberg. The cyberattack had already forced the shutdown of the world's biggest slaughterhouses, but signs quickly pointed to more shutdowns throughout the country.

A weekend cyberattack halted US beef capacity

The five largest beef plants in the country process 22,500 cattle every day, and this gigantic industrial process grinded to a halt after a weekend cyberattack on the Brazilian firm's computer networks. The outages halted nearly one-fifth of the beef production in the United States. Australia was also greatly impacted by the shutdown, with slaughterhouses throughout the country closed down, according to a trade group. Additionally, the largest beef plants in Canada were placed in idle mode.

As of writing, we don't yet know how many plants in the world were forced to shut down following the ransomware attack, and the Sao Paulo-based JBS has yet to make a statement on the total devastation to the world's beef infrastructure. Global agricultural markets are already in a frenzy, with concerns mounting around the viability of food security, with hackers targeting crucial infrastructure. The market effects are staggering: Livestock futures fell sharply, while pork prices saw a bump from pivoting investments.

JBS halted all computer systems in Australia and North America on Sunday following an organized assault of some of its servers, according to a Monday statement from the livestock company. It added that the incident might delay adjacent transactions for both suppliers and customers. "Retailers and beef processors are coming from a long weekend and need to catch up with orders," said Steiner Consulting Group, in its Daily Livestock Report. "If they suddenly get a call saying that product may not deliver tomorrow or this week, it will create very significant challenges in keeping plants in operation and the retail case stocked up."

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Cyberattack highlights 'vulnerabilities in US food supply chain'

It could be some time before we know how the splintered beef capacity will affect prices at your grocery store. Hiking prices isn't a favorite pastime of retailers, some of whom may push back against the market, according to an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, in the Bloomberg report. "How long it goes on will impact to what level consumers start to see something at the grocer stores," he said.

Meanwhile, the White House extended an offer to help JBS after it notified the executive branch on Sunday of a cyberattack from an organization allegedly based in Russia, said Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, during a White House Press conference on Tuesday. "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," said U.S. Senator John Thune of South Dakota.

However, while this is a significant point, many others might look to alternative food supplies outside of traditional meat, including vegan, and even insect-based diets as a more resilient solution to the vulnerabilities in the U.S. food chain. Agriculture is responsible for a major portion of CO2 emissions, and many may see this cyberattack and reduction in beef capacity as an opportunity to highlight other, less palatable sources of protein.