GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – A cyberattack targeting JBS, the world's largest meat producer, could disrupt the supply chain and lead to an increase in prices for American consumers. JBS beef facilities have experienced nationwide shutdowns, including the meatpacking plant in Greeley.
JBS USA, the company's North American subsidiary, is headquartered in northern Colorado. The company became aware of the hack on Sunday over Memorial Day weekend.
The White House on Tuesday attributed the ransomware attack to a criminal organization likely based out of Russia. The FBI is leading the investigation and the Biden administration is also contacting the Russian government.
JBS, Greeley's largest employer, did not respond to CBS4's requests for an interview. The company released a statement on Monday, which reads in part:
"The company is not aware of any evidence at this time that any customer, supplier or employee data has been compromised or misused as a result of the situation. Resolution of the incident will take time, which may delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers."
JBS has not said how much ransom the hackers are demanding and if the company plans to pay. The cyberattack targeted servers supporting JBS's North American and Australian IT systems.
"The JBS cyberattack is an attack on those who work to provide food for our families. We must find out who is responsible and hold them criminally accountable," tweeted Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican who represents Colorado's 4th Congressional District. "I will continue to monitor the situation and provide assistance to JBS here in Eastern Colorado."
Keith Belk, head of Colorado State University's Department of Animal Sciences said the impact on U.S. meat production remains to be seen.
"The consensus was that it would impact their ability to produce at several of their facilities, and that would slow down production," Belk told CBS4's Dillon Thomas. "The question is whether it will be short lived or not. And, that will determine if it has a supply chain impact."
CSU works in partnership with JBS to educate future workers in the field of meat processing. A facility on the campus is named after the company. However, Belk was speaking to CBS4 as an educator and expert in the field, not as a spokesperson connected to the company. He said the disruption won't impact everyday shoppers unless it takes days, or weeks, to fully address.
"(If it is a longer process) it will almost immediately cause higher prices, just like it did at the beginning of the pandemic," Belk said.
Belk said some preliminary estimates by industry experts suggest the company may already be tens of thousands of head short in their processing due to the cyberattack.
"They've also been challenged by labor issues since the pandemic," Belk added. "JBS is saying they are identifying and addressing the issue, so I am optimistic it won't. But, you never know."
UFCW International President Marc Perrone wants JBS to quickly resolve the breach and ensure workers are paid on time. The union represents more than 25,000 JBS workers.
"UFCW is calling on JBS to work with state and federal leaders to help get JBS meatpacking workers back on the job as soon as possible so these essential workers can continue to keep our country's food supply fully operational and secure as this pandemic continues," Perrone said in a statement.
The cyberattack comes just weeks after a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline prompted gas shortages in several states. Colonial paid nearly $5 million in ransom to the Russian hacking group DarkSide. Soon after, the extortion gang claimed it was ending its operation before disappearing online.
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