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JBS cyberattack: Livestock haulers feel brunt of plant shutdowns

‘It really throws a wrench in your week,’ trucker says

Livestock haulers that serve JBS facilities are feeling the fallout from cyberattack on the company. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Truck driver Darwin Hershberger was preparing to transport cattle from Wyoming to Utah on Monday morning when the feedlot owner told him the load was canceled. The reason: a cyberattack on JBS, the largest meat processor in the world.

Hershberger and other truck drivers who specialize in hauling livestock have been feeling the brunt of the attack, which has disrupted operations at JBS facilities across the U.S. and Canada. The White House said it was a ransomware attack, likely by hackers in Russia. 

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” he said. “This is the first time anything like this has ever happened.”

Hershberger, a driver for JM Mascaro Livestock, typically delivers cattle to a JBS facility at least once a week. The loss of the first load meant that he couldn’t pick up a second load in Utah, and instead drove hundreds of miles to pick up cattle from another site. 

“It really throws a wrench in your week,” he said.

Multiple facilities throughout North America have temporarily shut down or reduced operations. Bloomberg reported that JBS has halted processing at five of the largest U.S. plants. 

Shutdowns ‘really bad news’ for JBS haulers

Drivers like Hershberger represent a key component of the U.S. food supply chain. The disruption they’re experiencing will all but certainly spread the longer JBS’ plants are down, affecting the flow of meat products in the coming days. 

“This is really bad news for someone who is dedicated to hauling for JBS,” said Alleah Hilker-Heise, who is president of Steve Hilker Trucking in Cimarron, Kansas, and sits on the transportation committee of the United States Cattlemen’s Association.

A JBS spokesperson did not respond to FreightWaves’ questions about the impacts of the cyberattack on supply chain operations. Apart from the ecosystem of trucking and logistics providers that keep livestock and meat moving, JBS USA has its own trucking fleet, JBS Carriers. 

A statement posted late Tuesday, the company said that most of its plants will be operational Wednesday. The attack was first detected on Sunday, according to the company.

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

Cyberattack further strains livestock transportation providers

Hershberger’s wife, Andrea Marks Hershberger, has been following developments closely from their home in Greeley, Colorado, where JBS USA is based. 

“It’s literally a ghost town over there,” she said of JBS’s headquarters.

Marks Hershberger was also intimately involved in the transportation of livestock. She helps run her father and brother’s trucking company and sits on the transportation committee of the Cattlemen’s Association.

“This is going to impact consumers the longer this goes on,” she said.

For livestock haulers, the cyberattack represents just the last wrench thrown into their livelihood. COVID-19 outbreaks disrupted operations at meat processing facilities across the U.S. throughout the pandemic. Recently, the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline hit fuel supplies.

“We’re basically dealing with three emergencies now: reeling from COVID, the fuel shortage and now this,” Marks Hershberger said.

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Nate Tabak

Nate Tabak is a Toronto-based journalist and producer who covers cybersecurity and cross-border trucking and logistics for FreightWaves. He spent seven years reporting stories in the Balkans and Eastern Europe as a reporter, producer and editor based in Kosovo. He previously worked at newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the San Jose Mercury News. He graduated from UC Berkeley, where he studied the history of American policing. Contact Nate at [email protected]