Tester Urges Biden Administration to Investigate Attack on Meat Industry, Beef Up Critical Cybersecurity Infrastructure

Senator: “I stand ready to work with you to ensure the continuity of our food supply and to strengthen our national security”

Following a ransomware attack that forced beef processing plants to shutter and threatened the nation’s food supply, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is urging the Biden Administration to thoroughly investigate the incident and to beef up America’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, Tester wrote that irresponsible consolidation in the ag sector has left America’s food supply vulnerable to such disruptions, and called for a swift investigation into the incident and recommendations to prevent a similar attack from happening again.

“While any attack on critical infrastructure can lead to substantial damages, attacks on our food supply are particularly alarming,” Tester wrote. “As a farmer, I know firsthand both the importance of feeding America and the complexity of our food supply chains. Through my own experiences and from conversations with countless producers, it is clear that our food systems are far too vulnerable.”

Tester’s letter comes after an attack on the world’s largest meat packer, JBS, which fell victim to a ransomware attack that forced it to close all U.S. federal and regional facilities. JBS currently processes more than 20 percent of cattle, more than 15 percent of pork, and a significant portion of poultry in the U.S.

“I urge your agencies to work together to get to the bottom of this incident,” Tester concluded. “American producers and consumers are already hurting from the economic turmoil of this past year. In order to prevent future attacks, we must identify and fortify our critical infrastructure. As part of this effort, we must examine market consolidation as a factor. I stand ready to work with you to ensure the continuity of our food supply and to strengthen our national security.”

The U.S. meatpacking industry is significantly consolidated — just four companies operate 18 of the top 20 beef slaughter facilities in the country. Through formula and forward cattle pricing, large corporate packers are able to reduce the number of slaughters, curtail cash trades, and use depressed demand to manipulate future contracts and reduce the ability of independent ranchers to negotiate fair returns for their products.

Tester is a leader in the effort to combat corporate consolidation and protect the livelihood of family farmers and ranchers. He recently joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues in demanding the Department of Justice investigate whether the control large meatpackers have over the beef processing market violates U.S. antitrust laws and principles of fair competition, and his three-part Rancher Relief Plan aims to provide more certainty to Montana producers and give consumers more access to Montana’s world-class products. These bipartisan initiatives include:

  1. Increasing interstate commerce and diversifying meat production in Montana and neighboring states;
  2. Legislation to ensure fair prices at the farm gate from large packers;
  3. And the first bipartisan Senate push for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling since Congress repealed it in 2015.

Tester’s letter is available HERE.