SEN. ERNST: Food security is national security

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Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) joined her fellow Iowan and Senate Agriculture Committee member, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), to discuss the growing risk of ransomware attacks targeting food and agriculture entities across Iowa and the nation. Ernst described the emerging and existing vulnerabilities to American food and agriculture systems from cyberattacks, including those orchestrated by Russia, and the threat they continue to pose to Iowa farmers.

Last month, Ernst joined Grassley in pressing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to address the rise in ransomware attacks against U.S. agricultural entities. Ernst also recently teamed up with Grassley to introduce the bipartisan Food Security is National Security Act, which would scrutinize foreign investments in American agricultural assets and help safeguard the integrity of the U.S. food supply.

Senator Ernst’s full remarks are below:

“From grocery stores in Iowa to New York, and every state in between, it’s no secret that the price of groceries has drastically increased in the past year.

“Combine that with the ongoing supply chain disaster, it’s even more apparent that the last thing we need is a cybersecurity attack that would shut down any of our agriculture production.

“Like many Iowans, I’m increasingly concerned about the growing ransomware attacks on our nation’s ag economy.

“In a 2019 report, researchers from the University of Minnesota outlined the seriousness of the risk of cyberattacks to the American food and agriculture systems.

“The report indicated that American agriculture is extremely vulnerable, due to the outdated security, poor coordination among businesses, and lack of emphasis on cybersecurity within the industry.

“In June, the world’s largest meat processing company—JBS—was attacked by a Russian-based operation. Nine U.S.-based meat packing plants temporarily shut down as a result, including the JBS pork processing plants in Marshalltown and Ottumwa, Iowa.

“Similarly, NEW Cooperative, an Iowa grain cooperative that controls 40 percent of the grain distribution in our country, was recently targeted with a cyberattack by another Russian cybercrime.

“They attacked controlled crop irrigation, livestock feed schedules, and inventory distribution…and then they demanded $5.9 million in ransom.

“Another attack hit Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company, based in Arcadia, Iowa. This was coordinated by another Russian attacker who threatened to release sensitive data, including financial, sales, and accounting information.

“This a very serious warning sign for our ag industry.

“And it’s a problem primed to increase as farmers incorporate more technology into their daily lives.

“Precision agriculture, for example, has promising potential to fulfill increasing global food supply and demand while also improving soil and water quality. But, it demands a heavy reliance on interconnected devices and the internet—creating a vulnerability.

“Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to remotely control and disrupt data flow, potentially causing devastating consequences, especially as farmers move their crops and livestock to market.

“These attacks risk the livelihood of farmers and affect the supply chain that puts food on the shelves and on tables across our country.

“That’s why I believe 21st century farming needs 21st century solutions.

“The security, safety, and resiliency of our food supply chain is integral to the overall security of our nation.

“The agricultural sector is designated as a critical infrastructure industry, but historically has not received robust cybersecurity support from the government.

“Just recently I joined Senator Grassley in urging Secretary Mayorkas to address these ransomware attacks on agriculture and to leverage the department’s resources to prepare for future attacks.

“The Biden Administration outlined a new national security memorandum that would include cybersecurity as it relates to agriculture, but the plan is voluntary and would severely limit its effectiveness.

“It is why I joined Senators Grassley, Stabenow, and Tester on an effort to give both the Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Health and Human Services, who oversees the Food and Drug Administration, permanent representation on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

“The legislation also adds new criteria to ensure that proposed transactions are reviewed specifically for their potential impact on American food and agricultural systems.

“The increasing trend of foreign investment in our food and ag systems should be met with careful scrutiny in order to safeguard the security and safety of our food supply, and by extension, our nation.

“Because, after all, food security is national security. And again, I thank my senior Senator, Chuck Grassley, in leading these efforts to protect our agriculture industry, the livelihoods of Iowans, and everyone else who puts food on their table.”