Cyberattack stops Hood, Booth Brothers milk production

By Guy Page

A “cyber security event” that began in mid-March interrupted milk production at Hood plants in New England, including the Hood-owned Booth Brothers facility in Barre. Deliveries to some customers were interrupted, and “some milk had to be disposed of,” Hood officials told Vermont Daily Chronicle today.

Plenty of Hood and store brand milk, but Booth Brothers shelves are empty at Berlin, VT Price Chopper Saturday afternoon. Page photo

The local interruption of food production occurred amidst troubling reports of millions of U.S. birds slaughtered to forestall a (so far) 17-state contagious avian flu. Also according to the New York Times the threat of global hunger looms due to the Ukraine crisis and pandemic-related supply chain issues, as well as the global energy shortage that began before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

The Hood IT team continues to work on the problem, and most of the Hood plants are back in production now, HP Hood corporate spokesperson Sarah Barow said today. 

According to media reports, the cyberattack began during the weekend of March 12-13. Hood is the largest New England supplier of school lunch milk. Some schools served juice or water instead of milk, media reports say. 

Delivery problems to some Vermont retail outlets persisted at least through this past weekend. The Berlin, VT Price Chopper shelves were empty of Booth Brothers milk products, although the Hood and store brand shelves were well-stocked. 

The New England poultry production industry has not yet lost any birds from the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). However, New Hampshire state workers Friday March 18 euthanized about 80 birds at a Derry, NH animal sanctuary. The action was taken after five turkeys died unexpectedly. They were found to have suffered from the more infectious strain of the avian flu. There is not an immediate threat to people or birds kept for poultry production, New Hampshire state officials said.  

Federal agricultureal officials say a small backyard flock in Maine and a small flock in Suffolk County, NY also experienced the HPAI, which has begun to pop up on the East Coast and elsewhere in the U.S. and globally. To date, industrial poultry production in New England has not suffered any HPAI attacks. No incidents of HPAI have been reported in Vermont. 

The New York Times reported March 20 an increase in world hunger due to the Ukrainian crisis compounding supply chain and energy problems. “The result is that global food and fertilizer prices are soaring. Since the invasion last month, wheat prices have increased by 21 percent, barley by 33 percent and some fertilizers by 40 percent,” the Times reported. 

HP Hood spokesperson Barow would not comment on the source of the cyberattack, nor whether it was a ‘ransomware’ attack. Her response to VDC questions is published below in full:

“About two weeks ago, Hood learned that its network system was the victim of a cyber security event. Out of an abundance of caution, we took all of our plants offline. As a result, we were temporarily unable to manufacture or receive raw materials including milk. We worked with our dairy cooperative suppliers to divert the milk to other locations as best we could. It is my understanding that some of the milk had to be disposed of.

“Hood’s IT team and others have been working around the clock to resolve the issue and I am happy to report that the majority of our plants – including Barre, VT – are now up and running.”

“As a result of this interruption, some customers may experience a temporary delay in receiving their orders. We are grateful to our employees for all of their hard work and efforts and our customers for their patience and understanding.”

One media report said 80,000 gallons of milk had to be disposed of, but accurate figures of dumped milk are as yet unknown.

Avian flu outbreak in 17 states – According to Food Safety News, the U.S. appears headed for a record outbreak of HPAI. 

“Millions of birds in at least 17 states are being rapidly killed in a determined attempt to bring a dangerous strain of Avian flu under control,” reporter Dan Flynn wrote March 25. “And Avian Influenza outbreaks in the United States during 2022 have already surpassed the minor detections experienced in 2016 and 2017.”  

“While it’s possible for humans to get sick from Avian flu, it rarely happens. Anyone who works with poultry, however, should be on guard.

“In roughly doubling in the last month, the question is whether the 2014-15 record will hold. That was when the U.S. endured its largest animal health emergency when more than 200 cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) were found in commercial and backyard flocks and some wild birds.”

The FBI’s Internet Crime Center Industry webpage lists no warnings for the poultry industry.

8 replies »

  1. The dairy industry has come of age when a shortage of product is not caused by lack of farm help, grain price hikes/shortages or that milk tankers are getting stuck on muddy roads…but instead on the man-made vulnerabilities of computers controlling the processing and distribution system. If Vermont’s largest hospital could undergo a serious cyber attack and still remain functional and safe for several months, it seems that the dairies and other food supply and process industries should be able to deal with it, hopefully without compromising food safety.
    Like in the movie “2001-A Space Odyssey”, there needs to be a backup plan when the HAL9000 has the hiccups, whether due to malfunction or malicious tampering. It seems either are inevitable.

  2. Not sure I’d agree with this: If Vermont’s largest hospital could undergo a serious cyber attack and still remain functional and safe for several months.

  3. Ever wonder why so many things are happening at the same time??

    You can’t “Build it Back Better” until you tear it down first.

  4. We we told that Covid-19 was untreatable, preventions and cures were totally suppressed. Yet we learned that Vit. D, C, zinc, quercetin, magnesium, HCQ, & ivermectin were highly effective in stopping the virus.
    As bird flu is also a very similar virus, nobody should consider culling their flock before putting these supplements into their food.
    The food shortages are not accidental.

  5. Thank you for sharing. Interesting. I did experience the lack of any milk, esp our fav. Booth bros, at local Hannaford’s, last week!

  6. Attacks on global food systems are increasing. Follow the Ice Age Farmer to stay up to date:

    And just as the Event 201 simulation preceded the Covid outbreak, there have also been simulations for cyber attacks (Cyber Polygon) and food shortages (the Food Chain Reaction Game).

    It’s strange how these just-in-case “planning exercises” magically precede the events actually happening. Some advice: Whenever a “planning simulation” occurs, expect the thing to happen and plan accordingly.

  7. We want transparency! Which “Page” took the photo…? Wasn’t me, nor was it Joe or Imani…

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