The livestock industry received some timely support from a surprising source at USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum Thursday. A month after the Environmental Protection Agency okayed using more ethanol in gasoline, former President Bill Clinton warned that using too much corn for ethanol could raise global food prices and lead to food riots in poor countries.
Clinton, whose foundation works in African countries such as Malawi and Rwanda, said the United States needs to find a way to become energy independent without hurting the world’s poor or fueling instability around the globe. That was a clear reference to the dramatic increases in world food prices that led to social unrest in poor countries and even toppled some governments in 2007 and 2008. One of the causes of that crisis was increasing use of corn for fuel in developed countries.
“There is a way for us to do this and to do it right,” Clinton said. He added that the growth in the U.S. ethanol industry needs to be watched carefully.
Clinton’s comments contrasted with the more pro-ethanol attitude of the man who introduced him, former Iowa Governor and current U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Speaking at the same conference, Vilsack said there is “no reason to take the foot off the gas” on biofuels.
One knowledgeable observer suggested this wasn’t an accident. “Both Vilsack and President Obama campaigned on ethanol,” the observer said, “and you can’t win a primary or statewide office in Iowa if you don’t support it. So what do you do when you know the country needs to back off on ethanol? You get a successful, popular former Democratic president to deliver the message.”
A video of Clinton’s speech is available at , a video of which is available here.