Meat production in the U.S. is climbing back toward normal levels, with the government pressing other companies to boost output while JBS SA’s meat plants recover from the Memorial Day weekend cyberattack.
JBS said June 3 that lost production would be fully recovered by the end of the week.
“All of our facilities around the globe are operating at normal capacity,” Andre Nogueira, JBS USA’s chief executive officer, said in the statement.
Cattle-slaughtering in the U.S. had essentially returned to normal June 3, with 120,000 head slaughtered, just 1,000 less than a week earlier, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The USDA said earlier this past week that it had reached out to other meat producers to encourage them to boost their output as much as possible.
JBS in its statement June 3 said its encrypted backup servers were not infected and allowed for a return to operations sooner than expected.
Still, at least some plants were initially doing operations manually, meaning logistical labor like packaging and accounting for cattle would be a challenge, according to workers who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak for the company.
“There’s a lot of automation, there’s a lot of reliance on technology,” said Wendell Young, head of the United Food and Commercial Workers’ local union representing 1,500 members at JBS’s beef processing plant in Souderton, Pennsylvania. “You can disconnect some of those wires and switches and run things old-school, but before you do, you want to make sure that everything’s running smoothly.”
The May 30 cyberattack forced the Brazilian food giant to shut down all of its beef plants in the U.S. — accounting for almost a quarter of American supplies — and slow pork and poultry production. Slaughtering operations across Australia were halted and at least one Canadian plant was idled. JBS, which has facilities in 20 countries, also owns Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., the second-biggest U.S. chicken producer. The extent of the outages may never be known as JBS didn’t detail the impact.
JBS didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The road to recovery has proven long for many companies subjected to ransomware attacks. Colonial Pipeline Co. had to shut the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. for nearly a week last month, causing shortages at filling stations, and some regional supply chains struggled for several weeks.
The attack on JBS and ensuing shutdowns upended agricultural markets and raised concerns about food security as hackers increasingly target critical infrastructure. In a statement late June 2, the FBI attributed the attack on JBS to REvil, a Russian-speaking gang that has made some of the largest ransomware demands on record in recent months.
“Certainly this is going to have an impact on the prices of meat,” Texas Democratic Representative Henry Cuellar, co-chair of the Congressional Beef Caucus, said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio.
Congress needs to address cybersecurity threats in part by crafting a “comprehensive” national strategy and provide adequate oversight, he said.
In Texas, workers returning to work also had to deal with issues like cattle left in freezers longer than usual, potentially rendering them inedible. Employees also are seeking full confirmation that their personal data housed by JBS wasn’t compromised. The company has said it’s not aware of any evidence that customer, supplier or worker data has been leaked.
JBS said its Canadian beef facility in Alberta, one of the largest in the country, has resumed production. Workers at the Longford beef processing plant in Australia had been told operations will resume June 4, according to a spokesman for the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union in Tasmania.
The Australian government is seeking technical information from JBS about what happened on its network “with a view to us potentially being able to help other victims before they become victims,” Rachel Noble, director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate, told a parliamentary hearing June 2.