U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed the ransomware attack on JBS Foods, a global meat processing company. Thune emphasized how the attack on JBS, one of the four meatpacking companies responsible for more than 80 percent of America’s beef processing operations, highlighted two important issues: the rise of ransomware attacks on critical industries and infrastructure and the serious threat they represent to the United States and how the highly concentrated nature of the meatpacking industry can create opportunities for market manipulation.
Full text of Sen. Thune’s speech below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, last week we learned that global meat processing company JBS – one of the four meatpacking companies responsible for more than 80 percent of America’s beef processing operations – had suffered a ransomware attack.
“The attack temporarily shuttered the company’s U.S. beef plants, threatening the beef supply and leaving ranchers wondering once again whether they would be able to sell their cattle.
“Mr. President, the JBS attack highlights two important issues.
“The rise of ransomware attacks on critical industries and infrastructure represents a serious threat.
“Less than a month before the ransomware attack on meatpacking, ransomware criminals hacked the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies gasoline and jet fuel to the East Coast.
“The Colonial attack caused fuel shortages and drove up gas prices, with many consumers facing gas station lines that harked back to the oil crisis of the 1970s.
“In today’s society, where almost everything we do has a cyber component, ransomware and other malicious cyberattacks carry the potential to seriously disrupt our way of life.
“Cybersecurity needs to be one of our top priorities.
“Private companies need to invest in cybersecurity, to keep their systems and customer data secure.
“And the federal government has to invest in it, as a matter of national security.
“We can’t afford to let hostile individuals – or hostile governments – hack key government databases or functions.
“I was proud to be a lead sponsor of the HACKED Act, which became law as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
“This legislation focuses on enhancing both public and private cybersecurity development.
“It bolsters science education and cybersecurity programs at multiple government agencies, and enhances partnerships between universities and employers on cybersecurity workforce needs.
“We need to continue to make cybersecurity training a priority.
“We also need to send a clear message to governments that harbor cyberattackers.
“It’s obvious that Russia remains a haven for cyber criminals.
“Both the Colonial Pipeline and JBS attacks were the work of Russia-linked hackers, and we need to make it clear to Russia and other countries that we have no tolerance for the harboring of cyber criminals.
“Mr. President, the JBS attack also highlighted a second problem – the highly concentrated nature of the meatpacking industry.
“When one or more of the handful of companies controlling the meatpacking industry experiences a problem – whether that’s a plant shutdown due to COVID transmission or a cyberattack – that creates a potentially serious problem for the entire U.S. meat supply.
“We all remember seeing bare meat department shelves at times during the pandemic.
“Had meatpacking capacity been less concentrated, it’s likely that we would not have seen such significant shortages.
“This high level of concentration in the industry also creates a problem for livestock producers, who rely on meatpackers to buy and harvest their animals and get them to consumers.
“If a meatpacker has to shut down a plant, that means that farmers or ranchers may lose out on getting their livestock to market.
“The highly concentrated nature of the meatpacking industry also creates the opportunity for market manipulation.
“And in fact serious concerns have been raised about market manipulation in the beef industry owing to the substantial and ongoing gulf between meatpacker profits and rancher profits.
“I recently sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee requesting that the committee hold an oversight hearing into potential anticompetitive behavior and antitrust violations in the meatpacking sector.
“This followed on my letter to the attorney general urging the Justice Department to disclose the results of its investigation into the meatpacking industry, and my request to the Agriculture Committee to hold a hearing examining the challenges livestock producers have been facing.
“I will continue to work to make sure any anticompetitive behavior in the beef-packing industry is addressed.”
“I will also continue to support efforts to increase competition in the meatpacking industry, like my legislation to support small meatpackers – the Strengthening Local Processing Act.
“I introduced this legislation in February along with Senator Merkley to help strengthen and diversify national meat processing capacity by providing new resources for smaller, more local meat-processing operations.
“As I said, more than 80 percent of the beef-packing industry in this country is controlled by just four companies.
“Encouraging more companies to get into this marketplace, and encouraging small meatpackers to expand, will dilute the power of these four companies and create more competition for ranchers’ cattle – which will lead to higher prices for ranchers when they bring their cattle to market.
“Plus, spreading out and expanding our nation’s meat processing capacity will make our nation’s meat supply less vulnerable to interruption in situations like the pandemic or other natural disasters, or the JBS ransomware attack.
“Mr. President, South Dakota cattle producers work hard every day to deliver top-quality beef to our nation – and the world.
“I’m proud to represent them here in the Senate, and I will continue to fight to enhance competition in the meatpacking industry so that ranchers – and all livestock producers – can receive a competitive price for their livestock.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”