JBS operation in Ottumwa still running smoothly, despite cyber attack

JBS operation in Ottumwa still running smoothly, despite cyber attack Main Photo

2 Jun 2021

A cyberattack on JBS has impacted its operations locally, but union officials say the Ottumwa facility is still operational as of Tuesday.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union represents more than 25,000 meatpacking workers at JBS facilities in Iowa, and nationwide. Company officials said the reported cyberattack against the company has impacted operations at all of its U.S. facilities.

However, JBS pork facilities in Ottumwa and Marshalltown remained operational despite the attack, union officials said. Officials with JBS did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Ottumwa Courier about the situation and its impacts.

Union officials told the Courier that all JBS-fed beef plants and all JBS regional beef plants in the U.S. were shut down following the attack. All other meatpacking facilities have experienced some level of disruption, they said.

In a statement, the union called on JBS to continue to work with state and federal officials to make sure impacted workers are back to work as quickly as possible, and to limit supply chain disruptions.

"UFCW is pleased JBS is working around the clock to resolve this," said a statement from UFCW International president Marc Perrone.

A statement from JBS said an organized cybersecurity attack that impacted servers supporting its North American and Australian information technology systems. As a result, the company said it suspended all impacted systems, and its working to restore systems with backup servers which were not impacted.

The company said in a statement that it doesn't believe any customer, supplier or employee data has been compromised.

The Associated Press reported the cyberattack was of the ransomware variety. It takes place just weeks after a similar incident prompted officials with the Colonial U.S. pipeline to shut down.

JBS SA of Brazil notified the U.S. of a ransom demand from a criminal organization likely based in Russia, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Tuesday. She said the White House and the Department of Agriculture have been in touch with the company several times this week.

JBS is the second-largest producer of beef, pork and chicken in the U.S. If it were to shut down for even one day, the U.S. would lose almost a quarter of its beef-processing capacity, or the equivalent of 20,000 beef cows, according to Trey Malone, an assistant professor of agriculture at Michigan State University.

Malone said the disruption could further raise meat prices ahead of summer barbecues. Even before the attack, U.S. meat prices were rising due to coronavirus shutdowns, bad weather and high plant absenteeism. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it expects beef prices to climb 1% to 2% this year, poultry as much as 1.5% and pork between by from 2% and 3%.

JBS didn't say which of its 84 U.S. facilities were closed Monday and Tuesday because of the attack. But a union official confirmed that two shifts at the company's largest U.S. beef plant, in Greeley, Colorado, were canceled Tuesday.

Some plant shifts in Canada were also canceled Monday and Tuesday, according to JBS Facebook posts.

In Australia, thousands of meat plant workers had no work for a second day Tuesday, and a government minister said it might be days before production resumes. JBS is Australia's largest meat and food processing company, with 47 facilities across the country including slaughterhouses, feedlots and meat processing sites.

The closures ref lect the reality that modern meatprocessing plants are heavily automated, for both food- and worker-safety reasons. Computers collect data at multiple stages of the production process, and orders, billing, shipping and other functions are all electronic.

JBS has not stated publicly that the attack was ransomware.

Jean-Pierre said the White House "is engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter and delivering the message that responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals." The FBI is investigating the incident, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is offering technical support to JBS.

In addition, USDA has spoken to several major meat processors in the U.S. to alert them to the situation, and the White House is assessing any potential impact on the nation's meat supply.

JBS has more than 150,000 employees worldwide.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.