Employees at the U.S. division of JBS SA, JBSAY -1.20% the world’s largest meat company, noticed something wrong in their computer systems over Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff for the busy summer grilling season.

The culprit, a ransomware attack, didn’t just hit its target—it roiled the U.S. food industry, from hog farms in Iowa to small-town processing plants and New York restaurants. The hack set off a domino effect that drove up wholesale meat prices, backed up animals in barns and forced food distributors to hurriedly search for new suppliers.

The attack was the latest clash between cybercriminals and companies integral to the functioning of the U.S. economy. It was another disruption to the U.S. food industry after the Covid-19 pandemic last year forced weeks of plant shutdowns, and this year, an economic rebound has stretched suppliers’ ability to meet demand.

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