By Jon Daly, Ashleigh Bagshaw, Tom Major and staff reporters
A cyber attack is grinding Australia’s biggest meat processor to a halt and the fallout is causing disarray for farmers and the livestock trade around the country.
JBS USA has confirmed the company was targeted by an organised cyber attack on Sunday, which has paralysed its operations in North America and Australia.
In a statement, a JBS spokesperson said the company took immediate action by contacting authorities and enlisting the help of IT experts across the globe to fix the issue.
“The company is not aware of any evidence at this time that any customer, supplier or employee data has been compromised or misused as a result of the situation,” the spokesperson said.
As a result, the national kill is expected to be cancelled for several days and the ABC has been told numerous consignments of cattle in Queensland have been cancelled at the eleventh hour and trucks were forced to turn around.
“We had to send them up on Sunday afternoon and then we got the message in the morning that they’d have to cancel the train because the meatworks was going to be shutting for an indefinite amount of time,” Central Queensland grazier Colin Baker said.
“We had a wasted day … because mustering the cattle, sorting them out and then trucking them up there and then we had to bring them home today and let them all go again.”
- JBS’s national kill could be halted all week, affecting thousands of workers
- The cyber hack is causing disarray for farmers across Australia
- The meat processor is yet to say when systems will be restored
Cattle trade tumult
JBS has 47 facilities across Australia and operates the largest network of production facilities and feedlots in the country.
Thousands of meatworkers across Australia have been sent home as a result of the cyber attacks, according to the Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Union.
“All of the animals coming into the system, and all the meat going out of the system are all done by computers, whereas in the old days it was done with the labelling and tagging system,” Tasmanian Secretary Andrew Foden said.
“Because the pay run is normally done by the computer, they’re actually frantically doing it at the moment … they’re just going to rollover last week’s pay manually,” he said.
At JBS’s facility near Townsville in Northern Queensland, about 600 head of cattle would have been killed today.
Ray White Rural agent Liam Kirkwood said the shutdown had thrown the northern cattle supply into disarray.
“No doubt a lot of people would have had cattle on the road and they’ve been turned around and sent home,”
“People will just wait and see what happens, it’s all pretty fresh here today, so I’d say people will be looking for answers from JBS in the next 24 hours as to what’s going to happen.”
The situation is also having big implications for farmers elsewhere in the country.
Gabrielle Coupland farms on the southern NSW border and delivers sheep to the JBS plant at Brooklyn just outside of Melbourne.
She said deliveries were cancelled on Monday and the shutdown had caused huge disruption to the supply chain in the region.
“There’s a lot of people from southern NSW that would be affected,” Ms Coupland said.
“But it’s not just the farmers, It’s the truck drivers, the stock handlers, it’s the re-organising, it’s caused a huge disruption to the market.”
Mr Kirkwood said the shutdowns could affect livestock sales in the coming weeks.
“No doubt the cattle they’re not killing at the moment, they’ll be pushed back, and everyone’s kill dates will be pushed back, which will throw out both mustering, trucking schedules, you name it,” he said.
“There may be people looking to go to other alternatives like our sales, but that will remain to be seen in the next week or two.”
JBS is also a major buyer of livestock and its absence from the market may have implications for competition and prices.
Duncan Mcleod, president of the Roma Livestock Agents Association, said the situation would have little effect on the sale at Australia’s biggest cattle sale at Roma in Southern Queensland today.
“The competition overall at Roma has been pretty strong, and I would imagine there’d also be other buyers … maybe some of those buyers will see it as an opportunity to go a bit harder and secure a few more extra cattle,” he said.
“Hopefully, it won’t have a negative effect, it will be fairly constant, and things will keep chugging along.”
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud confirmed the government was investigating the hack and working to get the company back online.
The ABC has contacted JBS Australia for comment, but so far it has not responded or indicated when its operations would resume.
“Resolution of the incident will take time, which may delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers,” a spokesperson from the US branch of JBS said.
Producers like Mr Baker have been left with unanswered questions.
“They haven’t been able to tell us when it might happen when they might get going again,” he said.
“And I guess when they do there’ll be a backlog of cattle so it’s a bit unknown what’s going to happen next.”