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At the JBS meat plant in Lins, workers with sharp knives carefully take apart what was once a 1,000-pound steer, making sure to cut along the correct anotomical divisions in the search for the best cuts of beef. (Photo: Juan Forero/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Cyberattack Against Globe's Largest Meat Company Shutters Slaughterhouses, Roils Markets Worldwide

The suspected ransomware attack prevented the USDA from publishing wholesale beef and pork data as well as shutting down slaughterhouses.

Julia Conley

One-fifth of U.S. beef production capacity was reportedly "wiped out" Tuesday and slaughterhouses were shuttered worldwide following a cyberattack on JBS SA, the world's largest meat producer.

The Brazilian company shut down its North American and Australian operations following an attack on its servers, with market experts reporting that more extensive shutdowns across the globe are possible.

"This is quickly escalating into a very serious situation," tweeted Robert Burgess, executive editor of Bloomberg Opinion.

The five biggest beef plants in the U.S. shut down operations, halting the handling of 22,500 cattle. One of Canada's largest meat processing plants was also shut down for the second day in a row.

"There are at least 10 plants I have knowledge of that have had operations suspended because of the cyberattack," Paula Schelling-Soldner, acting chairperson for the national council of locals representing food inspectors for the American Federation of Government Employees, told Bloomberg. 

JBS SA did not confirm it had been targeted by a ransomware attack, but the situation "has all of the hallmarks of one," Allan Liska, senior security architect at the cybersecurity analytics firm Recorded Future, told Al Jazeera.

The attack comes three weeks after hackers disrupted the operations of Colonial Pipeline Co., which runs the biggest gasoline pipeline in the United States. 

White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday the Biden administration believes the attack came "from a criminal organization likely based in Russia," and that the White House is offering support to JBS SA and "engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter."

In addition to shutting down meat processing operations, Bloomberg reported, the attack prevented the U.S. Department of Agriculture from releasing wholesale prices for pork and beef, crippling agriculture markets.

"No One Knows How Much U.S. Meat Costs After Cyberattack Jams Report," the outlet's headline read.

"Totally normal and functioning food system," Bloomberg journalist Deena Shanker tweeted sarcastically. 

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