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JBS attack unlikely to cause major meat disruption: USDA

JBS attack unlikely to cause major meat disruption: USDA
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The Agriculture Department (USDA) said Thursday that the ransomware attack on meat conglomerate JBS SA is unlikely to cause major disruptions but exposed the risks created by food industry consolidation.

In a Thursday statement, the USDA said beef and pork production have begun to rebound after a weekend attack forced the country’s second-largest meat producer to shut down its plants. 

JBS USA is responsible for 25 percent of beef and 20 percent of pork and poultry sold in the U.S. The company said Tuesday it expected to regain full production capacity by the end of Thursday.

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“Our daily market data shows a strong rebound in cattle and hog slaughter, which we expect to continue through the week, while poultry numbers are higher this week than last. All in all, the market is moving toward normalization and, if the situation continues to resolve quickly, we don’t expect this incident to have lasting effects on wholesale and retail prices,” the USDA said.

The USDA added that the Biden administration has pushed other meat producers to help fill the void left by the JBS attack and “take any necessary measures to alleviate price increases or shortages.”

The brief shutdown of JBS plants is expected to drive rising prices for meat slightly higher. Industry experts say the JBS attack will have a limited, largely short-term impact on meat availability and prices, which are still expected to rise as the U.S. economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while the damage from the attack may be limited, the narrow aversion of a potential disaster for the U.S. food system still sent shockwaves across the country. A prolonged disruption to a massive producer like JBS could have triggered serious meat shortages and upended the industry.

“The cyberattack on JBS USA underscores the risks of a consolidated food system. If there are lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and this latest incident, it is that we need to invest in a food system that is durable, distributed and better equipped to withstand 21st century challenges, including cybersecurity threats and other disruptions,” the USDA said.