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Hackers attack US meat supply chain

URBANA, Ill. - Another international cyberattack may have a direct impact on your dinner table.

Over the weekend, hackers breached computer systems of JBS USA, the second-largest producer of beef, pork, and poultry in the country. Sunday, the company initiated a shutdown of many of its meat producing facilities across the country. The company produces 206 million 4-ounce servings of protein a day.

“The protein supply chain is tightly coordinated and efficient,” says Todd Gleason, University of Illinois Extension broadcaster. “Any disruption has an impact on the ability of the system to continue moving product.”

James Lowe, director of University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine I-Learning Center, believes the full extent of the attack is still unknown.

“If it goes on for the rest of the week, I think that’s a problem across the entire protein complex,” Lowe says.

From conception to consumption, the meat industry is highly coordinated, Lowe says. Producers raise animals based on consumer demand. US meat processing plants typically run at 100% capacity. Any glitch has a ripple effect.

For example, the JBS pork producing plant at Beardstown processes about 20,000 pigs a day. The pigs, born months earlier, are already contracted for harvesting at an established weight.

“If we don’t harvest the pigs at Beardstown today, they have to be harvested later,” Lowe says. “The pig continues to gain weight, and we run out of days to process this perishable commodity.”

Disruptions cause major impacts up and down the protein chain. COVID-19 was the most recent disruption to the meat industry. This cyberattack exposes another vulnerability in a highly-mechanized industry, Lowe says.

SOURCE: James Lowe, Director, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine
WRITER: Todd Gleason, University of Illinois Extension Broadcaster

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