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U.S. Meat Industry Becomes Latest Cyber Victim

A ransomware attack forced the world’s largest meat producer to close all U.S. beef plants at a time when global meat prices are already soaring.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A JBS processing plant is dormant.
A JBS processing plant stands dormant after halting operations in Greeley, Colorado, on June 1. Chet Strange/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. meat supplier JBS comes back online following a ransomware attack, Iran now expects a deal on sanctions relief and its nuclear program in August, and the African Union suspends Mali after latest coup.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. meat supplier JBS comes back online following a ransomware attack, Iran now expects a deal on sanctions relief and its nuclear program in August, and the African Union suspends Mali after latest coup.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

JBS Hack Highlights Systemic Flaws

JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, said it expected to reopen the “vast majority” of its U.S. plants today after a ransomware attack crippled its operations on Tuesday, forcing all U.S. beef plants to close and halting work at factories in Canada and Australia. In a heavily consolidated market, Brazilian-owned JBS accounts for nearly a quarter of the U.S. beef supply.

Although state-level hackers were not involved, JBS informed the White House that the hack came from a criminal group likely based in Russia. “The White House is engaging directly with the Russian government on this matter,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said on Tuesday, adding the United States would deliver the message that “responsible states do not harbor ransomware criminals.”

Bloomberg identified the group involved as REvil (or Sodinokibi), a notorious cybergang with Russian links.

JBS’s problems come on the heels of a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which briefly halted gasoline flows to the East Coast of the United States. The situation was eventually resolved but not before gas stations had been pumped dry in several states as panic buying set in.

The JBS hack is likely to increase calls for higher cybersecurity standards for private businesses in essential sectors, an area untouched in a recent presidential executive order instituting an overhaul of federal government cybersecurity systems. Its also a wake-up call for the U.S. meat industry’s oligopoly. “Attacks like this one highlight the vulnerabilities in our nation’s food supply chain security, and they underscore the importance of diversifying the nation’s meat processing capacity,” Sen. John Thune said on Tuesday.

High steaks. It also comes at a time when beef itself is rising in price, driven by increased Chinese demand, pandemic-related worker shortages, and rising feed costs. The beef squeeze has not been helped by Argentina, the world’s fifth largest beef supplier, which recently took the dramatic step of halting beef exports for 30 days in an effort to tame runaway inflation.

Rising prices. The increase coincides with rising food prices around the world. A May report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization found global food prices are at their highest since 2014 and have been increasing for 11 consecutive months.

What We’re Following Today

Israel’s new government. An anti-Netanyahu coalition has until the end of today to announce a new Israeli government as negotiations go down to the wire. If a coalition deal is reached, Naftali Bennett is expected to become prime minister in a rotating agreement with his senior coalition partner, Yair Lapid. Benny Gantz, who is expected to retain his defense minister role in the shake-up, will travel to Washington on Thursday to request $1 billion in emergency military aid to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and purchase more bombs for its air force.

Israels Knesset also voted today for a new president—a largely ceremonial role. Isaac Herzog, the former Labor Party leader, won with 87 of 120 votes and will replace current Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on July 9.

Hunger in Tigray. More than 5 million people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region—more than 90 percent of its population—are in need of emergency food assistance, the United Nations World Food Program said on Tuesday as it appealed for a further $203 million in relief funds.

The warning comes after U.N. humanitarian coordinator Mark Lowcock alerted the U.N. Security Council of the “serious risk of famine if assistance is not scaled up in the next two months.” Lowcock estimated “over 90 percent of the harvest was lost due to looting, burning, or other destruction, and that 80 percent of the livestock in the region were looted or slaughtered.”

Iran deal pushed to August. Iran expects an agreement on a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal and the lifting of U.S. sanctions to be finalized in August, Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said. Rabiei’s comments during a news conference on Tuesday effectively quashed rumors of an impending deal and stretched the negotiating time frame until after Iran’s June 18 presidential election. Rabiei said there were “no obstacles” for negotiators in the Vienna talks but that “some differences, such as [former U.S. President Donald] Trump’s sanctions and Iran’s measures need to be worked out.”

AU suspends Mali. The African Union has suspended Mali’s membership for the second time in less than a year following last week’s coup in which interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested and pressured to resign by Mali’s military. The African Union has also threatened Mali with sanctions if it does not embrace “an unimpeded, transparent, and swift return to the civilian-led transition.” Assimi Goita, the leader of the August coup that toppled Mali’s previous government, assumed the role of president last Friday. The AU’s move follows a similar suspension by the Economic Community of West African States on Sunday.

Keep an Eye On

Canada’s mass graves. After the remains of 215 children were found last week at a former Indigenous residential school in Canada, Indigenous groups are now calling for a search for more unmarked mass graves at residential school sites throughout the country. The children, some as young as three, were buried in British Columbia at Kamloops Indian Residential School, one of the state-funded institutions where about 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly sent between 1831 and 1996 to be “assimilated” into white Canadian society in what the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called a “cultural genocide.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday the discovery was not an “isolated incident” and that looking for more mass graves is “an important part of discovering the truth,” but he did not commit to any plans.

Global oil prices. Oil prices rose to their highest level during the pandemic period as Brent crude futures traded at more than $70 a barrel for the first time in two and a half years. The rise reflects expectations of greater fuel demands as U.S. and Chinese economies show signs of recovery heading into the summer and builds on the confidence of OPEC+ countries that agreed to continue easing oil supply restrictions through July.

Odds and Ends

Italian President Sergio Mattarella was forced to abandon a dedication ceremony to one of his predecessors after the plaque he was revealing showed the wrong name. The event was held to dedicate a road in Rome to former Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, only for the stone plaque bearing the his name to read “Azelio” instead.

Although the sign was corrected on the same day, some have seen the debacle as a conspiracy to undermine Rome’s mayor, Virginia Raggi. “Elections are approaching, and they are doing all they can to stop Virginia Raggi. The plaque with the wrong name of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi is not a simple mistake. Do you think it is possible? I don’t,” City Councilor Paolo Ferrara, Raggi’s ally in Italy’s Five Star Movement, wrote on Twitter.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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