When does the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) say you should eat meat? It depends on the day.

On July 23, the agency’s interoffice newsletter, Greening Headquarters Update, encouraged employees to participate in the “Meatless Monday” initiative that was supposed to help the environment.

Three weeks later, on August 13, the agency announced plans to buy up to $170 million worth of meat, poultry, and fish from drought-stricken livestock producers (yes, fish from livestock producers) and put it toward subsidized school breakfast and lunch programs and other food assistance.

That’s a paradox of bovine proportions.

Of course, this buyout gives the illusion of the federal government having rescued livestock producers, but it is merely cosmetic—a temporary solution for a deeper problem.

In fact, the USDA was rescuing livestock producers from the consequences of federal policy.

After all, the federal “renewable” fuel mandate—requiring 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol this year alone—is inflating the price of corn beyond what cattle ranchers can afford. Some 30 percent to 40 percent of the nation’s corn yield now goes to ethanol, which has sent cattle feed costs soaring. Ranchers have been feeling the squeeze for years, but the drought’s effect on corn and hay production has exacerbated matters. As news of the Meatless Monday promotion spread, agency officials dared not defend it, particularly in light of the ranchers’ ire. Instead, they claimed that the promotion had not gone through the proper channels.

Meanwhile, livestock producers are pleading for a temporary waiver of the ethanol mandate to free up corn supplies and slow the rise in feedstock prices. The Obama Administration has refused, evidently preferring to make a show of buying out a few ranchers.

All of which is further proof that government has grown wild. Congress should revisit the renewable fuel standard as well as agriculture policies that are costing consumers and taxpayers dearly.