• Mike von Massow

Will Your Steak or Burger Be a Victim of a Cyber Attack?

The news this week that JBS, one of the largest meat processors was hacked was being subject to a ransomware attack has generated many questions about both the availability and price of beef and pork. JBS is a big player in meat processing representing 25% of the US beef processing and 20% of US pork processing. JBS has a large beef plant in Alberta.

The attack has closed many plants in the US, Canada, and Australia. It appears as though the issue has been brought under control and that most of the affected plants are reopening. That means the anticipated shortages and price increases are unlikely to materialize. There is probably enough inventory in the system to buffer a couple of days of closure.

If the closures had been longer there could well have been impacts. This round of closures was a bit different than those we saw during COVID because they all affected one company. That means that quick substitution of supply from another plant would have been difficult. Customers may have had to scramble to alternate suppliers to fulfill their requirements. That would have been more difficult than an internal transfer or shuffle within the company. The drive to source product from competitors would likely have led to short term shortages and price increases for restaurants and retail. The longer the plants remained closed, the more significant these impacts would have been. Fortunately that was avoided.

The problem of plant closures is more serious for cattle and hog producers. Even short term shortages can cause back ups of animals. This increases costs and decreases revenue as animals have to be fed longer (higher costs) and often grow beyond optimal parameters (lower revenues). Once again, because the closures were relatively short term, these impacts were likely small as plants try to catch up quickly.

Overall, in this circumstance we were lucky that the impacts on the market of the JBS cyber attack were relatively minor - although we don't know how much, if any, JBS paid to free their systems. The increasingly reliance of computer systems makes the food system, and in fact the whole economy, vulnerable to these sorts of attack. Once again we saw resilience and robustness in the face of a significant challenge. Our confidence in the ability of the food system is well placed.

#beef #pork #cyberattack #beefprocessing #packingplants #cattle #hogs #JBS

Recommended citation format: von Massow, M.. "Will Your Steak or Burger Be a Victim of a Cyber Attack?". Food Focus Guelph (116), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, DATE.