Former President Bill Clinton re-ignites food vs. fuel debate


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By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.


ARLINGTON, VA, Feb. 24 - With food prices on the upswing, former President Bill Clinton questioned the logic of using food crops for the production of ethanol, but stopped short of calling for biofuel production to end.


“If you produce more biofuels and you produce less food, then that means food prices will be even higher and we'll have more food riots,” he told participants attending USDA's Annual Outlook Forum today.

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“We shouldn't be pretending that there's not inherent contradictions and dilemmas here," the former president said, adding he's worried that food versus fuel has been debated here and elsewhere in a "knee-jerk, fact-free way."

His comments came shortly after Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told participants attending USDA's Annual Outlook Forum that there was no reason to let up on biofuels production, because U.S. farmers “can do it all.”

Clinton's comments drew a sharp rebuke from pro-ethanol interests. National Corn Growers Association President Bart Schott pointed out that rising oil prices, not ethanol production, are a major cause of food price inflation.

 “The U.S. ethanol industry uses only three percent of the increasing global grain supply and is expected to return 1.2 billion bushels of corn livestock feed in the form of dried distillers grains and corn gluten feed this year alone,”

“Every year, America's farmers produce more than enough corn to meet all the needs of the expanding markets of feed, fuel and food both in the United States and across the world and the ethanol industry is not an exception. 

The Renewable Fuels Association also pointed to oil prices as the culprit for food price spikes:

Rising oil prices, even before the unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, have made everything we buy from food to clothes to fuel more expensive,” the group noted in a statement.  

Growth Energy said U.S. biofuel production is helping, not hurting the world's poor.

“We have a surplus of food in this country. In fact, the latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates reports that the size of the 2010 corn crop is the third largest on record, proving the tremendous capability of American farmers to meet our growing demand for food, feed and renewable fuel - even during challenging growing conditions,” the group said in a statement.


“If there are hungry people in the world, it's not because of production. In fact, overproduction in the United States has helped put farmers in poorer nations out of business as cheap American grain floods their markets. Ethanol consumes that surplus grain, preventing it from being dumped overseas, and helps put farmers in other nations back into business.”

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