Ex-prez Clinton bullish on U.S. ag; Biofuels? Not so much

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2012 -Former President Bill Clinton has no doubt that U.S. agriculture will continue to feed this country and many others around the globe, but apparently doesn't want it to fuel the world, too.

“This is an exciting time to be interested in food production,” Clinton told approximately 400 students, faculty and friends of the University of Arkansas' Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural Food and Life Sciences. He was the inaugural speaker of the Sen. Dale and Betty Bumpers Distinguished Lecture Program.

 Together we can feed the Bees

Agriculture faces two challenges: feeding the 7 billion people on the planet and feeding people in the United States and other wealthy countries “so it doesn't kill them,” Clinton said.

“There will be lots of markets for American [farm] exports if we continue to do what we know how to do,” predicted the former president, who has devoted much of his time since leaving the Oval Office to working on hunger and development issues overseas through the William J. Clinton Foundation.

He suggested that China and India - two of the world's most populous nations - have little hope of feeding their citizens in an environmentally-sustainable and economical manner.

Clinton also spoke about the growing number of Americans, children in particular, suffering from conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

He said about $150 billion annually is spent on health care in the United States to treat diabetes patients, often developed as a result of poor eating and exercise habits. Therefore, “when somebody tells you they want to cut agricultural research, say ‘no.'”

Modernizing the country's food distribution system would help, too, the 42nd President added.

In a question-and-answer session that followed his 45-minute speech, Clinton was asked how Washington should reduce U.S. oil imports and, at the same time, increase the energy supplies from renewable sources.

He acknowledged that biofuels had played a role in reducing oil imports below 50% but gave much of the credit to the boom in natural gas production and more fuel-efficient cars.

“I think America really could become energy independent,” he opined, if it continues to develop its abundant natural gas reserves and invests more in wind and solar energy.  No reference was made to ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels.

The omission disappointed, but didn't surprise row-crop farmers in the audience, who recalled Clinton's scathing criticism of U.S. reliance on grain-based ethanol in a speech to the 2011 USDA Outlook Forum. He suggested that converting corn into ethanol was partly to blame for rising hunger in the world's poorest regions.

The good news for renewable fuels supporters is the current occupant of the Oval Office has a different view.

“We're going to produce more biofuels,” President Obama declared Tuesday as he promised more action to curb oil market speculation.


Original story printed in April 18th, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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