The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

President Clinton urges balance in food-vs.-fuel debate

CRYSTAL CITY, Va. — Former President Bill Clinton seemed to join the food-versus-fuel debate today, saying that a balance should be struck in the use of corn for food and ethanol to avoid food riots, a statement that won quick retorts from the Renewable Fuels Association and the National Corn Growers Association.

In a speech to the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum, Clinton said the United States should achieve independence from imported oil. He also noted half the trade deficit is due to oil costs.

But when discussing solutions, Clinton said farmers in both Brazil and the United States face challenges when dealing with ethanol. Brazilian sugar cane production does not threaten the rain forest, Clinton said, but the growth in sugar cane acreage pushes cattlemen and soybean producers into the rain forest.

In Iowa, he said, farmers face the issue of selling corn for food or making ethanol. He said he believes people “should sit down year to year and make intelligent decisions” about the use of corn for ethanol and for “good food at affordable prices.”

“We know that the way we produce and consume energy has to change, yet for farmers there are no simple answers,” Clinton said. “There is a way for us to do this and to do it right.” But he did not offer any system for making that decision.

The Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers, issued a statement in response.

“The driver behind rising food prices has been and remains oil,” the RFA said, noting that only 3 percent of the world’s grain supply is used in American ethanol production.

“President Clinton is right that ethanol is a key to American energy security and we would welcome his support in advocating for the continued advancement and evolution of this industry to include a wide variety of feedstocks and technologies,” RFA said.

The National Corn Growers Association issued a statement that used the same ethanol production statistic.

"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 Corn Growers said. "The U.S. ethanol industry uses only 3 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."