NFU: Cyberattack Takes 20% of Beef Processing Offline
One-fifth of U.S. beef processing capacity was temporarily knocked out after hackers attacked JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, on Sunday.
The ransomeware attack, which JBS said was perpetrated by a “criminal organization likely based in Russia,” affected the corporation’s servers in Australia and North America. All nine of JBS’s beef plants suspended operations on Tuesday, while several of its pork and poultry plants closed or cut back production. Because most of the affected facilities were back up on Wednesday, there likely won’t be a significant impact on ranchers or consumers. (It’s hard to know what the immediate effect was on the price of beef and pork: the U.S. Department of Agriculture delayed its daily price reports because it could potentially reveal proprietary information about JBS’s competitors.) However, it does raise concerns about future disruptions; JBS dominates 23 percent of the American beef market, 18 percent of the pork market, and 17 percent of the pork market, so any extended shut-down could seriously harm rancher’s livelihoods as well as meat prices and availability.
The possibility of this was realized last year, when covid-19 outbreaks forced dozens of meat plants to shutter. At the peak of pandemic closures, pork production and beef production were reduced 25 and 10 percent, respectively. And it’s not just because of JBS – several other companies control just as significant a portion of the meat sector. Just four companies each process 85 percent of our beef, 70 percent of our pork, and 54 percent of our poultry. Similarly, a mere 50 plants process 98 percent of our nation’s beef supply. As a result, a problem at one plant or company can have ripple effects across the national food supply chain.
To prevent this kind of interruption in the future, National Farmers Union (NFU) advocates policies that would stem the tide of consolidation as well as build out regional food infrastructure. For the former, the organization supports stronger antitrust enforcement, and for the latter, it promotes legislation that would assist with the development and certification of small- and mid-sized processing plants. NFU President Rob Larew appeared on the Today Show this week to discuss the cyberattack – you can view a video clip here.
National Farmers Union advocates on behalf of nearly 200,000 American farm families and their communities. We envision a world in which farm families and their communities are respected, valued, and enjoy economic prosperity and social justice.