Just four companies process 85% of American beef, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though the consolidation has long affected ranchers, it wasn’t until the pandemic — when the industry made headlines with bottlenecks, price hikes and COVID-19 outbreaks among workers — that the general public noticed. Even the White House got involved, pledging $1 billion to boost the nation’s independent meat-processing capacity. In Montana, a state with more cows than people, this helped at least 17 plants open or expand. But in all the excitement — the ribbon cuttings on shiny new facilities, the feel-good of fighting for the little guy — it’s easy to forget: What happens after that local chuck gets wrapped in cellophane?