What does the JBS cyber attack mean for the food system?

Source: Kailey Foster, Utha Public Radio, 3 June 2021, photo credit: RS News

Earlier this year, the meat processing business, JBS, was hit with a cyberattack that caused it to temporarily shut down some of its operations in Utah and other parts of the United States, as well as Australia, and Canada. Food security experts are looking at how this could effect the security of our food chain. 

With more than 150 plants in 15 countries around the world, JBS is the largest meat supplier in the world. One of these 150 facilities is located in Cache Valley’s city of Hyrum.

But why would someone plan a cyber-attack on a meat processor? Ryan Larsen, farm management extension specialist at Utah State University, said it could simply be to cause a disturbance. 

“When you read that a large percentage, of the meat processing has been hacked, it causes concerns for citizens. So, I think a lot of the motivation was purely just to cause concern and to scare people,” said Larsen. 

This incident has forced processors to look at vulnerabilities in the food system.

“I think this JBS incident is going to force companies to really take a good look at their cybersecurity, and really start to say, how secure are we and put protective measures in place to try and avoid these types of issues,” said Larsen.  

Incidents like this cyberattack can affect farmers raising the meat. 

“It just trickles back. So, in the feedlot, the cows keep getting heavier, they can’t get the cows off of their feed, so it’s costing them more money to keep those cows on feed,” said Larsen. “[The cows] are getting heavier, they can’t bring new cows in and then that just means that supply just keeps growing and growing. And that just eventually they don’t have a market.” 

JBS Foods in Hyrum was shut down on Tuesday and workers were back to work on Wednesday. Other states that experienced shutdowns are Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. 
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The South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) coordinates industry interventions and collaboratively manages risks in the value chain to enable the sustainability and profitability of pork producers in South Africa.