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Meat producer JBS says expects most plants working Wednesday

CANBERRA, Australia — A ransomware attack on the world’s largest meat processing company disrupted production around the world just weeks after a similar incident shut down a U.S. oil pipeline.

Brazil’s JBS SA, however, said late Tuesday that it had made “significant progress” in dealing with the cyberattack and expects the “vast majority” of its plants to be operating on Wednesday.

“Our systems are coming back online, and we are not sparing any resources to fight this threat,” Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS USA, said in a statement.

The White House said JBS had 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 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. Before the attack, U.S. meat prices rose due to coronavirus shutdowns, lousy weather, and high plant absenteeism. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects beef prices to climb 1% to 2% this year, poultry as much as 1.5%, and pork between 2% and 3%.

JBS, a majority shareholder of Pilgrim’s Pride, didn’t say which of its 84 U.S. facilities were closed Monday and Tuesday because of the attack. It said JBS USA and Pilgrim’scouldo ship meat from nearly all of their facilities Tuesday. The company also said it was making progress toward resuming plant operations in the U.S. and Australia. Several of the company’s pork, poultry, and prepared foods plants were operational Tuesday, and its Canada beef facility resumed production, it said.

Earlier Tuesday, a union official confirmed that two shifts at the company’s largest U.S. beef plant in Greeley, Colorado, were canceled. 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’smost giantt meat and food processing company with 47 facilities across the country, including slaughterhouses, feedlots, and meat processing sites.

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.

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