The Surprising Reasons Meat Prices Could Skyrocket Yet Again

If you're getting ready to fire up your barbecue ahead of the summer, know that the meat you're hoping to enjoy will be just that much more expensive and a bit more difficult to come by, thanks to a number of factors. With life returning to normal across much of the country, meat processors are preparing for a surge in demand that's being fueled not just by home cooks and restaurants coming back after a long break, prices are also being driven up by overseas meat buyers looking for a bigger cut of premium American meat. 

As an indication of where we might be in two months time, beef prices are expected to double from where they were a year ago when the pandemic shut down meat processing plants, and 50 percent more than the average price over a five year period (via Daily Livestock Report). But a rising appetite for meat isn't the only reason the prices of American beef, pork, and chicken are expected to trend higher. 

Meat supplies are also being squeezed by a cyberattack

The country is facing a meat shortage that is being aggravated by a cyberattack that impacted IT operations in both North America and Australia. The ransomware attack succeeded in shutting down meat processing plants operated by the Brazil-based JBS, which manages a fifth of the country's processing facilities for beef and pigs. JBS also sells Swift-branded pork and beef products, as well as Pilgrim's Pride chicken (via CNBC).

The JBS attack wouldn't be the first time that hackers have tried to disrupt supplies of an essential commodity — last month, Russian hackers also crippled the Colonial Pipeline, which had a negative impact on fuel delivery for the U.S. CBS says those hackers pocketed nearly $5 million as a result of their efforts. Threat researcher John Hultquist told Reuters that "The supply chains, logistics and transportation that keep our society moving are especially vulnerable to ransomware, where attacks on choke points can have outsized effects and encourage hasty payments."

Experts are now worried that the ransomware attack, which is expected to impact meat and poultry supplies in the short term, might trigger panic buying that could end up hurting both pricing and supplies in the immediate future. But JBS CEO, Andre Nogueira, said that he expects most of its plants would be operational by today (via CBS). So, for those of us who enjoy a good steak, we can only hope that the company is as good as its word.