JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier, suffered a cyber attack on its North American and Australian systems that disrupted its global operations and forced it to halt work for thousands of employees.

The Brazilian company has stood down up to 7,000 workers in Australia, where its abattoirs rely heavily on casual staff. JBS has not indicated when it will be able to resume processing cattle, pigs and sheep at its 47 facilities across the country, according to people familiar with the matter.

In the US, the company’s plant in Cactus, Texas, was shut on Tuesday, the facility announced on Facebook. Shifts at the company’s beef plant in Greeley, Colorado — which is also home to the headquarters of its North American operations — were cancelled because of the cyber attack, according to a union representative.

JBS Canada also announced it had cancelled shifts at its site in Brooks, Alberta. That plant processes about 4,200 head of cattle a day.

The incident has hit meat-processing operations at a time when beef prices are at record levels in many markets.

“Because JBS controls about 20 per cent of meat processing in the US, security attacks like this can have massive implications for our national food supply,” said the US’s National Farmers Union on Twitter.

JBS said on Tuesday it had taken immediate action when it determined it was the target of an organised cyber attack, including suspending affected systems and notifying authorities. The attack hit some of its servers supporting the company’s Australian and Northern American IT systems, the group said.

The incident, first discovered on Sunday, is the latest in a string of cyber attacks on global companies — including last month’s ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, which operates a 5,500km fuel artery in the US.

“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. Resolution of the incident will take time, which may delay certain transactions with customers and suppliers,” said JBS in an emailed statement.

The meat-processing industry relies on software and IT systems for tracing and sorting animals, as well as keeping records to meet regulatory standards.

Matt Journeaux, an official at the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union, said JBS staff arrived at work on Monday morning and were told they had been stood down due to the attack.

“This will impact food production. It just depends on how long the shutdown goes on for. JBS exports about 60 per cent of what it processes so some overseas customers could be light,” he said.

David Littleproud, Australia’s agriculture minister, said JBS accounted for about one-fifth of meat-processing capacity in the country, but the shutdown should not have a big impact on exports as long as it was not protracted. It was too early to speculate on who had perpetrated the attack or why, he added.

“We are working with international partners around trying to trace and rectify this cyber attack, which is a global cyber attack on their operations,” said Littleproud.

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