Beef Prices Rise, Shortages Feared as White House Confronts Russia Over JBS Meat Packer Hack

Meat prices were already on the rise as fears of shortages were amplified by the cyberattack that halted U.S. livestock slaughters by JBS, the world's largest meat processing company.

The White House believes that the ransomware attack was carried out by a group of Russian cybercriminals and directly confronted the Russian government over the issue after being informed of the attack by JBS. It happened only weeks after a similar attack brought down the Colonial Pipeline, causing gas prices in parts of the country to surge and fears of shortages to come to fruition as panicked motorists flocked to pumps.

If the issue is not resolved quickly, consumers can expect the cost of meat to rise even higher than the inflated prices seen after the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge last year. The attack has already impacted the supply chain, according to industry analysts cited by Reuters. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated that 94,000 cattle on were slaughtered on Tuesday, down 22 percent from one week earlier and 18 percent from the same time in 2020.

Choice beef cuts sold to wholesalers increased by a little more than 1 percent, rising $3.59 to $334.56 per 100 pounds. Select cuts jump slightly higher, going from $5.55 to $306.45 per 100 pounds. Pork supplies were also impacted on Tuesday, with 390,000 hogs slaughtered, a 20 percent dip from a week earlier.

"USDA continues to work closely with the White House, Department of Homeland Security, JBS USA and others to monitor this situation closely and offer help and assistance to mitigate any potential supply or price issues," USDA said in a statement.

"As part of that effort, USDA has reached out to several major meat processors in the United States to ensure they are aware of the situation, encouraging them to accommodate additional capacity where possible, and to stress the importance of keeping supply moving," the statement continued.

JBS Meat Plant Beef Prices
JBS Foods was the victim of a hacking on Tuesday; the White House says the hack was likely from Russia. This photo shows the northern Australian offices of JBS Foods during sunset in Dinmore, west of Brisbane, on June 1. Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty

JBS USA CEO Andre Nogueira said in a statement that he expects "the vast majority" of the company's beef, pork and poultry plants to be operational by Wednesday, citing "the progress our IT professionals and plant teams have made in the last 24 hours."

Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday that JBS had notified the Biden administration of the ransomware attack on Sunday. She said that officials from the White House and the USDA had spoken to the company "several times in the last day," while the administration was also confronting the Russian government directly over the incident.

"JBS notified the administration that the ransom demand came from a criminal organization likely based in Russia," 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."

"And we're assessing any impacts on supply, and the President has directed the administration to determine what we can do to mitigate any impacts as may become necessary," she added.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment.