(June 12) It’s true enough that state grants totaling $43.5 million released in late May by the U.S. Department of Agriculture represent only a fraction of the money earmarked to bolster the nation’s food security programs.

But just looking at this particular pot of dough — a windfall for a person playing the lotto but a pittance for federal programs spread from sea to shining sea — brings up a slew of questions. Just 10% of it will fund plant pest and disease detection programs, while the vast majority will go to animal disease (think foot and mouth) surveillance, detection, diagnostic and response programs.

Does this mean agriculture officials are far more concerned about the latter and comparatively more comfortable with fresh produce security? Should folks in the fresh produce industry feel a sense of ... what, relief? Or a sense of being overlooked, once again, in the game of farm politics?

Contemplating the rationale for these grants, which came with an avalanche of USDA news releases and a series of press conferences around the country incorporating the magical phrase “homeland security,” one is moved to wonder: How can it be that the plant pest and disease detection needs of Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia, among others, are all exactly $75,000?

How can it be that Florida’s and California’s each are exactly $350,000?

Remarkable coincidences, those numbers. That’s if one thinks the process of determining these funding allocations was scientific or rational. Of course, it could not have been so. Few things that emanate from Washington, D.C., ever meet that criteria.

A very nice and competent USDA staffer helped me with an information request during one of the press conferences May 30 in Tampa, Fla. She gave me her card, and perhaps my somewhat cynical take on all this is clouded by a name I saw in her business address. It turns out she works at the Jamie L. Whitten Building on 14th and Independence Avenue SW.

Whitten was a Mississippi Democrat, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of Congress for entirely too long a time. He was a prominent name in an exceptional book that came out in the early 1990s: “Adventures in Porkland: How Washington Wastes Your Money and Why They Won’t Stop,” by Brian Kelly.

Pork barrel spending was a wild epidemic during Whitten’s tenure in Congress, and, unfortunately, it’s every bit as prevalent these days. It’s why big projects get parceled out to every state — every district, even — which turns efficiency on its ear but makes perfect sense inside the beltway.

According to the taxpayer watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, more than 8,000 pork projects this fiscal year will cost taxpayers $20 billion. Among recent federal projects to receive funding, according to the June issue of Reader’s Digest: $150,000 to renovate the Merry Go Round Playhouse in Auburn, N.Y., and $1 million for the Southern New Mexico Fair and Rodeo.

I’m not suggesting the food security grants amount to pork barrel spending, but the specific allocations smack of a similar mind-set. Whatever risks the U.S. food supply faces, they aren’t distributed equally from state to state.

And what in the world is going on when agriculture officials are taking an inadequate sum of money to begin with and, like the character in “Goodfellas” using a razor blade to shave garlic, are slicing it into insignificant slivers? New Mexico, after all, gets $50,000 for its plant pest and disease detection grant — just 5% of the fair and rodeo project.

And, for that matter, what’s going on when homeland security vis-a-vis the agriculture industry encompasses things like citrus canker and Medfly? Just about everyone I’ve talked to regarding food security has been operating from the same mental template: that our food supply may be at risk from terrorists attempting to contaminate it and harm Americans through their diets.

But the state grant money points to a different understanding of the potential threat. It suggests federal officials, insofar as fruits and vegetables are concerned, believe pests and diseases could be intentionally brought into U.S. fields as a form of economic terrorism.

That’s some rotten food for thought. Whether that’s the main food security concern, however, doesn’t change the fact that the USDA’s detection and exclusion programs are wholly inadequate, even with the additional post-Sept. 11 funding.

Think of it any way you want — part of homeland security or something that’s been long overdue as international trade has grown — but it’s high time the dangers of non-native pests and diseases are adequately addressed by elected officials in D.C.

Trimming and handing over some of that $20 billion in pork fat would be a good place to start.